Katie Fehrenbacher from GigaOm drove down to the Tesla's first battery-swap station in Coalinga, CA to check on its progress. Tesla had said in a blog post that it would start an invite-only pilot pack swap program last month; it doesn't appear that it's begun yet, but based on the almost-finished state of the not-yet-open swapping station, it could start up quite soon.

Sited across the street from the Supercharger station at Harris Ranch, the $500,000 swapping lean-to appeared to Fehrenbacher to be a repurposed car wash. It's got signage for its new use, the restrooms are in order, and the mechanicals for changing out batteries have been installed in a bay large enough for one car at a time.

This is the 'fee' part of the "Fee or Free" options for recharging a Tesla. Drivers with a bit of time can 'refill' at the supercharger station for free. Those who don't want to stop for more than three minutes - the time it's expected to take to change out the battery - will pay around $50 to $60 for a loaner battery so they can continue their trip. On their return trip, they will return to the swap station and return the loaner pack for their original one; it's said they can also pay to have their battery shipped to them - which seems odd - or pay the difference between the usage of their battery and the loaner.

There have been a few articles written about how the battery stations can restore a revenue stream for Tesla, selling ZEV credits to other manufacturers. After CARB rules switched to provide maximum credits only to vehicles that could "accumulate at least 190 or 285 miles, respectively, in 15 minutes or less" - which the superchargers can't do - Tesla's ZEV credit sales dropped to $0 by the end of 2013. The swap stations could fulfill the requirement, although there was once talk that CARB would bar the technology, disallowing battery changing for actual recharging solutions.

But that won't matter in the short term; we should find out what the Tesla-buying public thinks of swapping soon. Head over to GigaOm for more pictures of the station.

Tesla Battery Swap Pilot Program To Launch In California

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