What did Tesla reveal at its much-hyped Battery Day event?

23 Sep 2020

Still from ‘2020 Annual Shareholder Meeting and Battery Day’. Image: Tesla/YouTube

Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a number of promises at the company’s Battery Day event, including plans for a $25,000 car built with a cheaper, better battery.

Elon Musk’s latest vision for an affordable electric vehicle (EV) was revealed at the much-hyped Tesla Battery Day. A number of employees were present at the outdoor shareholder meeting, socially distanced from each other in Tesla cars and honking their horns in appreciation. The event was set to reveal Musk’s new vision for the company, and with it came a number of announcements around, unsurprisingly, its EV batteries.

Among them was Tesla’s plans to manufacture ‘tabless’ batteries, which the company said would improve both range and performance. Built by Tesla, the design removes the need for a tab that transfers a battery cell’s energy to an external force.

Instead, these tabs are now laser-patterned into the battery design, giving it dozens of connections through a ‘shingled spiral’ that requires fewer parts and a shorter distance for electricity to travel.

The company said this should make its EV batteries six times as powerful and increase the range of its vehicles by 16pc. Tesla’s current batteries are produced by tech giant Panasonic, but bringing production in-house could help alleviate supply problems.

Musk said in a series of tweets that Tesla will also ramp up purchasing of battery cells from Panasonic, LG and other partners to make up for severe production shortages expected to be in place until at least 2022.

Cobalt-free batteries

Musk said that despite using very little cobalt in Tesla EV batteries, the company is working to eliminate its use entirely in production. The mineral is common in lithium-ion batteries and is used across the tech industry to power smartphones, laptops and EVs, but its mining has been flagged as contributing to a number of human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere.

While there’s no timeline for when Tesla plans to make its battery cathodes totally cobalt free, Musk said its removal will also make production cheaper and is “absolutely critical” to the company’s goal of an affordable EV.

The $25,000 dream

While Tesla’s dream of a $35,000 Model 3 was short lived, Musk has now set the goal of selling a $25,000 car in the near future. Tabless and cobalt-free batteries will help in achieving this goal, he added, and will be able to “halve” the price per-kilowatt hour (kWh) to bring production more in line with the cost of manufacturing combustion engine cars.

Despite predictions that the average battery price will be $100 per kWh by 2023, Musk said his company is currently working on a three-year process to bring the price below this – but did not get into specifics about how this would be achieved.

This isn’t the first time that Musk has made the promise of a $25,000 car. He made a similar claim back in 2018 when he said it would be possible by 2021.

Elsewhere, Tesla’s Model S car is getting a tri-motor Plaid upgrade. Costing $139,990 and launching in late 2021, the car will have a range of more than 830km, a rather blistering top speed of 321kph and will be able to go from 0kph to 100kph in around two seconds.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic