Tesla has spent several years hyping its next-generation batteries and it appears that its partner, Panasonic, is getting ready to put them into production, which could mean as much as a 15% increase in range for Models S, X, 3 and Y.
The plan, according to the Nikkei, would see the new batteries go into production next year. The switch could also permit Tesla to cut back on the number of batteries used in its vehicles, reducing cost and weight without sacrificing range.
The Japanese battery supplier declined to confirm the Nikkei report, though it clearly didn’t deny it is coming close to production, either. “We are studying various options for mass production, including a test production line we are establishing this business year,” Panasonic told the Reuters news service. “We don’t, however, have anything to announce at this time.”
Coming up with a better battery is the auto industry equivalent of the Holy Grail. As TheDetroitBureau.com last week reported, a variety of potential breakthroughs appear on the horizon, including new solid-state cells that could yield massive increases in range, reduce charging times and slash costs. How soon that technology might be ready for real world applications is unclear, however. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of work going on to improve existing lithium-ion batteries, as well.
New batteries are coming
At its “Battery Day” event 16 months ago, Tesla identified several steps it hoped to take to improve the energy density of its current battery technology, among other things. It is planning to stick to a cylindrical design, but the “4680” cells it is working on are larger and more energy-dense than the current batteries Tesla uses. Nikkei and others report that range could rise by anywhere from 15 to 20% using the new batteries.
To put that into perspective, the Long Range version of the Model S currently gets around 404 miles per charge, according to the EPA. That could jump to anywhere from 465 to 485 miles, if the reports prove accurate.
That still would leave Tesla lagging new EV arrival Lucid for the top spot, however. Its Air Dream Range edition is the current benchmark with a 520-mile EPA rating.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced plans for a new generation of batteries at an event in September 2020. He claimed the 4680 cells would be six times more powerful and cost about 14% less per kilowatt-hour to manufacture. That’s a significant figure since batteries today account for almost a third of the cost of a typical BEV.
At the time, Musk indicated the plan was to produce the new batteries in-house, raising some questions about whether it was pulling away from its close partnership with Tesla. It has, in fact, turned to other suppliers for its factory in Shanghai. But Tesla and Panasonic continue to work together, among other things, sharing operations of the massive Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada.
Lower costs and more power
Getting cheaper, more powerful batteries into production could prove especially critical as more and more competitors come to market. As many as 40 or more all-new BEVs could be on sale in the U.S. by the end of 2022, even more launching in Europe and China.
But competitors are taking steps to improve their own battery technology. General Motors and LG Chem anticipate reducing the cost of their Ultium batteries to around $100 per kilowatt-hour, down from the $145 GM was spending for the cells in its Chevrolet Bolt EV. Longer term, the automaker wants to hit a $75 per kWh target. Nissan late last year outlined a similar series of cost reduction targets.
While Panasonic is not talking about the battery reports, Musk is expected to be asked for comment following Tesla’s earnings release Wednesday evening.