Tesla began exporting its China-made Model 3 electric sedan to Europe in October, offering a cheaper option for those on the continent.
The China-made Model 3 is available only in the Standard Range Plus variant, and costs several thousand euros less than the US-made vehicle, thanks to the use of the cheaper and less energy dense lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery.
It is expected that the China-made Model 3 will at some point also be exported to Australia, so it is worth exploring what that would mean in terms of range, charging and performance.
While the LFP battery is less energy dense, there are some advantages other than price compared to the nickel-manganese-aluminium (NCA) batteries used in the US-made vehicle.
One is that the LFP battery can (and should, according to Tesla) be charged to 100% regularly, whereas the NCA battery should generally only be charged to 80%.
Another is that while the LFP battery is less energy dense and weighs more, because Tesla has used a larger battery to make up for this, the China-made Model 3 SR+ in fact has a slightly longer range than the Fremont-made version, according to reports.
The difference is small but worth mentioning – 30km more driving range than the 2020 US-made Model 3 SR+, and 10km more range than the new refreshed 2021 model.
But reports suggest that there is a trade-off: they say the LFP battery charges more slowly than the NCA battery, and appears to have a shorter lifespan.
An initial test in Germany posted on Youtube suggests that as opposed to the NCA top charge rate of 170kW as tested by Netherlands fast charging network Fastned, the LFP battery achieves considerably less.
This video posted on Sunday shows that aside from a quick ramp up to 116kW, the charge rate quickly subsides. Another suggests that only a top charge rate of ~70kW is achievable with the LFP battery.
A chart, shared on Twitter in a thread regarding the difference between the two vehicles’ top charge rates, appears to confirm that, at least in cooler weather, the charge rate of the LFP battery used in the China-made Model 3 is indeed up to half that of the NCA battery used in the US-made vehicle.
Here is a comparison I found on a German website. It shows that the US SR+ indeed is faster, but actually not much. Both are charged during winter. pic.twitter.com/eHmolEXblJ
— Jan Wen (@jtailangw) December 6, 2020
In Chinese reports, there has also been some questioning of the lifespan of the LFP battery. On Chinese auto site D1EV, an article reported that the driving range of the China-made vehicle degraded considerably in winter.
A Tesla customer told the auto site that although the vehicle indicated it had 420km left, after driving 241km there was just 5% battery charge left.
“Lithium iron phosphate batteries do fall very badly in winter,” the site reported a Tesla salesperson as saying. The salesperson reportedly said that there are customers searching for older China-made Model 3 SR+ models that were fitted with the NCA battery before Tesla changed over to the LFP batteries made by Chinese Amperex Technology, including ones that had been damaged in accidents.
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.