Tesla’s Battery Day event reveals big plans for the electric carmaker

Tesla's latest battery day event revealed big changes for the company.
Image: Unsplash | Afif Kusuma

Tesla, and more specifically Elon Musk, is known for flashy events highlighted by major announcements. The electric carmaker’s Battery Day event fits that description. Shareholders sat in parked cars at the drive-in movie style outdoor meeting, honking their horns to indicate their approval.

Musk revealed several of the company’s new initiatives, including changes to its battery production and the goal of launching a $25,000 Tesla within the next few years. There is plenty to unpack from the socially-distanced Battery Day event. Here are the biggest announcements to keep track of.

Going Tabless

Tesla’s intent to manufacture its own batteries has been rumored for some time now. It has almost always been the company’s goal to decrease its reliance on third-party battery suppliers in favor of producing its own cells. Not only is this approach cheaper, it also gives Tesla more flexibility on the production line.

Musk says that Tesla plans to manufacture its own “tabless” batteries. The technique will improve the range and power of its vehicles. For those who aren’t familiar with battery technology, the tab is the part that forms a connection between the battery cell and what it is powering. Tesla says that its tabless cells will have five times more energy capacity than its existing ones, enabling a 16 percent range increase.

The company is reportedly getting close to perfecting the cell manufacturing system at the pilot plant level. It’s unclear how much longer it will be until Tesla starts rolling out cars with its own batteries.

That being said, it probably won’t happen anytime soon. It will take time and money to ramp up battery production—and that can’t even begin until the process is finalized. Musk says that the company will still rely on suppliers like LG Chem, Panasonic, and China’s CATL until its own cells are ready. In fact, Tesla will purchase more batteries from third-party suppliers in the short-term as it continues to ramp up production.

In the long run, making its own batteries will help Tesla avoid production delays. Notably, a 2018 shortage and issues at Panasonic slowed production of both the Model 3 and the Model Y.

Although it won’t happen overnight, Tesla’s shift towards independent battery production is a positive sign. It is practically essential if the company wants to start selling electric cars that are more affordable.

Affordable Tesla

Many people would love to drive a Tesla but can’t stretch their budget to afford one of the pricey vehicles. Fortunately, Musk is setting the company’s sights on a new price goal: $25,000.

That cost would put a Tesla in-line with competing gas-powered cars and would make getting one much more realistic for millions of people.

The Model 3 was supposed to be Tesla’s first mass-market vehicle. Although it is the cheapest of Tesla’s offerings with a starting price of just under $38,000, the company didn’t meet its initial goal of $35,000. The “production hell” noted above has a lot to do with that. Even if Tesla did reach its Model 3 goal, $35,000 is still more expensive than most gas-powered sedans.

At the Battery Day event, Musk again focused on Tesla’s goal of bringing the price of its entry-level vehicles to $25,000. Though this isn’t the first time he’s mentioned that figure, it seems more serious now. He said that the company will launch a three-year process to meet the goal. That means a cheaper Tesla could theoretically arrive as soon as 2023.

Much of this revolves around the price of battery packs, which is measured in price per kilowatt-hour (kWh). In 2019, the figure hit a new low at $156/kWh. That’s an 87 percent drop from 2010 when it cost $1,100/kWh. Many experts predict that the price will fall even further to $100/kWh by 2023. That will be the key to affordable electric vehicles.

Model S Plaid to Arrive in 2021

Although Tesla plans to release a cheaper car, it isn’t abandoning high-performance models. The company’s Model S is already a very capable electric sportscar. Musk recently revealed the new “Plaid” version of the vehicle. Yes, that is a reference to Mel Brooks’ 1987 comedy “Spaceballs.”

It will feature a new powertrain that allows it to go zero-to-60 in under two seconds and hit a top speed of 200mph. The vehicle will have a range of 520 miles between charges.

Obviously, those specs are insane. They will come with an equally insane price tag. Tesla’s Model S Plaid version will cost $139,990 and will be available for delivery in late 2021.

Bye, Cobalt

Battery Day wouldn’t be a fitting name for the event if there wasn’t more news about, well, batteries. Tesla also announced that it plans to eliminate the use of cobalt in its cathodes.

Cobalt is a dangerous material commonly found in batteries and is often mined under conditions that grossly violate human rights. Dubbed the “blood diamond of batteries,” cobalt is typically mined by hand from remote caves in poor countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Injuries, illnesses like breathing problems and birth defects, and death are all common occurances.

These conditions have led to a shift away from cobalt. Although Tesla’s batteries already use very little of the material, Musk said that it will fully eliminate cobalt in the future. He didn’t provide a specific timeline for when the change will occur.

New North American Cathode Plant

Given the fact that Tesla plans to start producing its own batteries, it will need a facility to do so. Musk said that a new cathode plant in North America is the answer.

The facility will reportedly make cathodes 76 percent cheaper and produce zero wastewater. Due to low nickel supplies and its shift away from cobalt, Tesla plans to diversify the cathodes it uses.

In July, Tesla announced that it chose Austin, Texas as the location for its next vehicle factory. At the time, Musk said that he would “strongly consider” Tulsa, Oklahoma, the runner-up city, for future projects. Although there is no guarantee the new cathode plant will be built there, it’s a possibility.

Tesla hasn’t yet revealed a timeline for when construction will begin on the new plant.

You can watch a recording of the Battery Day event in its entirety in the player below.


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