Reports of a new Tesla car battery that could bring the cost of electric vehicles on par with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, and will first be made available in China, are on high rotation – but the world will have to wait to learn more.
More in-depth details about Tesla’s potentially game-changing electric car battery technology via a “Battery Day” have been put on hold until it can be served in two parts, months apart from each other, said Tesla CEO and co-founder Elon Musk on Saturday.
The impact of Coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill, and although the curve in the US – where nearly a third of all the world’s 4.7 million cases have been tested – is now flattening, Musk is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Tesla is restarting electric car production at its Fremont Gigafactory with an official green light from Alameda county as reported on Sunday by the San Francisco Chronicle, but Battery Day, which like other similar Tesla events would invite a select audience, has its own challenges.
With much of the world embracing Zoom meetings and webinars, Musk’s assessment that Battery Day will be “one of the most exciting days in Tesla’s history” demands a live audience.
To that end, and in order to throw a bone to Tesla investors and fans until large public gatherings are considered safe again, Musk is now proposing an online event possibly in June, with a face-to-face event in months to come.
We’re going to have to push out the date or attendance will be very low. Maybe do in two parts: webcast next month & in-person event a few months later?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 15, 2020
At a face-to-face event, Musk’s showmanship will be able to give Tesla’s battery development the spotlight it deserves, and given the latest tidbits shared with Reuters, this is how it should be.
As Musk said in a follow-up response regarding Battery Day, “there’s a lot to see. It’s not just a presentation.”
Agreed, people have forgotten how much in-person events matter! Also, there’s a lot to see. It’s not just a presentation.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 15, 2020
Sources say that the new battery technology, the result of research and development of battery chemistry and design via Chinese battery maker CATL and a research team run by Tesla’s head researcher and Dalhousie University academic Jeff Dahn, will bring the cost of electric car batteries below $US100/kWh.
This is the magical number that industry experts say will bring electric cars within price parity with ICE vehicles. According to BloombergNEF, battery prices currently average in 2020 at $US135/kWh.
Technical advances made by CATL and the Dahn team will be incorporated into Tesla’s next-generation electric car batteries, Reuters reported the sources said.
CATL has been working on no-cobalt and low-cobalt battery technology, such as that reported on by The Driven in February. According to Reuters’ sources, CATL has brought the cost of making no-cobalt lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery packs down to $US80/kWh, and the cost of making cells for them down to $US60/kWh. CATL’s low-cobalt nickel-manganese-cobalt chemistry is nearly down to $US100/kWh.
Currently, Tesla’s Model 3 in Australia is priced starting in the high $70,000s drive away, about the cost of a Jaguar XE. Pumped up by a low-value Australian dollar, as well as import costs and the luxury car tax, lowering battery prices is important for wider adoption.
Another factor that will be key in Tesla delivering low-cost electric car batteries, that could become a no-return tipping point in bringing electric cars within that of ICE equivalents, is large scale production of electric car batteries.
Musk flagged this at Tesla’s Q4 2019 earnings call in January, noting that in order to both ramp up Model Y production, introduce the Cybertruck and then have enough cells left over to launch the Semi electric truck, the solution was simply a LOT more batteries.
“So, the thing we’re going to be really focused on is increasing battery production capacity because that’s very fundamental because if you don’t improve battery production capacity, then you end up just shifting unit volume from one product to another and you haven’t actually produced more electric vehicles,” Musk said.
The challenge that will be further discussed at Battery Day is, according to Musk, “how do you get from here to, I don’t know a couple of thousand gigawatt-hours a year or something.”
To do this, Tesla is reportedly also working on in a project named “Roadrunner” that will greatly increase its capacity to produce batteries en masse, and which will also be revealed on Battery Day, according to an article published by Electrek.
By reducing labour costs and massively scaling up production in “terafactories” to make batteries that cost less, Tesla could change the game for electric cars.
“We got to scale battery production to crazy levels that people cannot even fathom today. That’s the real problem,” Musk said at the Q1 2019 earnings call.
“I think it’s going to be a very compelling story that we have to present. I think it’s going to actually blow people’s minds. It blows my mind, and I know it. So it’s going to be pretty cool.”
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Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.