SAN FRANCISCO – Elon Musk has promised to cut electric vehicle costs so radically that a $25 000 (R420 000) car that drives itself will be possible, albeit not for at least another three years.
While the news was positive, the lack of clarity and lengthy timeline didn’t leave investors all that impressed, and as a result Tesla’s market value dropped by a whopping $50 billion following the “Battery Day” press conference hosted by the South African born tech mogul.
“Nothing Musk discussed about batteries is a done deal,” said Roth Capital Partners analyst Craig Irwin. “There was nothing tangible.”
Investors had expected two significant announcements at Musk’s oft-touted “Battery Day”: The development of a “million mile” battery good for 10 years or more, and a specific cost reduction target -expressed in dollars per kilowatt-hour – that would finally drop the price of an electric vehicle below that of a petrol-powered car.
Affordable electric cars on the horizon?
Musk offered neither. Instead, he promised over the next several years to slash battery costs in half with new technology an d processes and deliver an “affordable” electric car.
“In three years . . . we can do a $25 000 (R420 000) car that will be basically on par (with), maybe slightly better than, a comparable gasoline (petrol) car,” Musk said.
Musk acknowledged that Tesla does not have its ambitious new vehicle and battery designs and manufacturing processes fully complete. Tesla has frequently missed production targets set by Musk.
Tesla expects to eventually be able to build as many as 20 million electric vehicles a year, which would be a quarter of the current global vehicle production.
Building an affordable electric car “has always been our dream from the beginning of the company,” Musk told an online audience of more than 270 000.
Tesla on Tuesday also announced that a new Model S derivative called Plaid would join the range in 2021, offering a range of up to 830km and a top speed of 320km/h. The Plaid was listed on Tesla’s website on Tuesday at a price of nearly $140 000 (R2.35m).
At the opening of the event, Musk walked on stage in a black t-shirt and jeans as about 240 shareholders – each sitting in a Tesla Model 3 in the company parking lot – honked their car horns in approval.
To help drive down vehicle cost, Musk described a new generation of batteries that will be more powerful, longer lasting and half as expensive than the company’s current cells.
Tesla’s new larger cylindrical cells will provide five times more energy, six times more power and far greater driving range, Musk said, adding that full production is about three years away.
Out with expensive cobalt
To help reduce cost, Musk said Tesla planned to recycle battery cells at its Nevada “gigafactory,” while reducing cobalt – one of the most expensive battery materials – to virtually zero. It also plans to manufacture its own battery cells at several highly automated factories around the world.
Tesla will produce the new battery cells initially on a new assembly line near its vehicle plant in Fremont, California, with planned output reaching 10 gigawatt-hours a year by the end of 2021.
Tesla aims to rapidly ramp up battery production over the next years, to 3 terawatt-hours a year, or 3000 gigawatt-hours – roughly 85 times greater than the capacity of the Nevada plant. Musk said Tesla could supply batteries to other companies.
As carmakers shift from internal combustion to electric propulsion, investors are looking for evidence that Tesla can increase its lead in electrification technology over legacy carmakers, who generate most of their sales and profits from combustion-engined vehicles.
While average electric vehicle prices have decreased in recent years thanks to changes in battery composition, they are still more expensive than conventional cars, with the battery estimated to make up a quarter to a third of an electric vehicle’s cost.
Some researchers estimate that price parity, or the point at which electric vehicles are equal in value to internal combustion cars, is reached when battery packs cost $100 (R1680) per kilowatt hour (kWh).
Tesla’s battery packs cost $156 (R2620) per kWh in 2019, according to electric vehicle consulting firm Cairn Energy Research Advisors.
IOL & Reuters