Tesla promises better batteries and cheaper car

Tom Geggus | 23 Sep 2020

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Tom Geggus


As a journalist for Autovista Group's Daily Brief, Tom covers a wide variety of stories from across the automotive industry. From sales figures to the development of technology, he wants to know what is driving the industry.

At Tesla’s Battery Day yesterday (22 September), CEO Elon Musk outlined how the electric-vehicle (EV) manufacturer is looking to produce a more affordable vehicle as well as further advancing its battery technology. The event had been slated to take place earlier this year but was delayed, in part because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The socially-distanced event took place outdoors, on the back of the company’s annual shareholder meeting. Speakers addressed an audience of parked cars; whose occupants honked their horns in approval of the announcements.

Battery Day stood as a platform for a plethora of announcements. Musk confirmed new and improved in-house battery production will lead to a $25,000 (roughly €21,000) Tesla. A Plaid powertrain was also unveiled which will allow a Model S to reach speeds of 200mph with a range of around 520 miles between charges.

Better batteries

The event’s headline announcement confirmed Tesla will begin producing batteries in-house. The new ‘4860’ cylindrical cell gets its name from the size of the component. It looks to provide five times more energy, six times more power and 16% more range than cells the EV maker currently employs.

The key to this new battery will be a nickel-based dry electrode, which does not need a tab to connect the cell to the components it is powering. Tesla claimed the ‘tabless’ units would speed up production, with the manufacturer eventually moving away from its current external suppliers.

However, it looks like these advancements could take at least three years to come to fruition. Musk took to Twitter the day before the event to set expectations, saying high-volume production would not come to pass until 2022. This means at present, Tesla’s battery cell purchases from Panasonic, LG and CATL are likely to increase. But Musk warned that as cell suppliers go at ‘maximum speed’, the company still foresees ‘significant shortages in 2022 and beyond unless we also take action ourselves.’

Tesla’s CEO also announced that the company plans to eliminate the use of cobalt in its cathodes. Given the terrible conditions the mineral is often mined under, EV makers are doing all they can to move away from it. No timeline was given for when this would be achieved, but Musk confirmed it would make batteries significantly cheaper.

Part of Tesla’s fresh approach will also involve integrating the battery into the vehicle, making it integral to the structure. This means a lighter car and more space for cells. This comes as the EV maker uses die-cast machines for the Model Y in the ‘Giga Press’.

An affordable EV

By reducing the cost of its batteries, Tesla plans to produce a $25,000 car. Looking at halving the price per kilowatt-hour, the EV maker will employ its new ‘tabless’ cells, as well as changing the materials inside the battery.

‘It’s absolutely critical that we make cars that people can actually afford,’ Musk said. ‘Affordability is key to how we scale.’

However, this is not the first time the concept of an affordable Tesla has been discussed by the company’s CEO. He also said a $25,000 EV would be possible within three years back in 2018. It could be that investors remembered this, as $50 billion was wiped off the company’s stock-market value following the Battery Day announcements.

Powerful plaid powertrain

At the other end of the price spectrum, Musk also confirmed that a Model S with a Plaid powertrain would be available in late 2021. The car aims to be capable of a top speed of 200 mph (321kph), 0-60mph in two seconds and a range of 520 miles (836km). However, all this would come with a price tag of $139,990. Tesla appears to be taking aim at cars like the recently announced high-performance Lucid Air with this new powertrain.

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