Tesla CEO Elon Musk has announced plans for a new car battery that will bring the price of the Tesla to $25,000 – but left with an ambitious plan and no prototype, what can electric car enthusiasts actually expect?
The company plans to roll these vehicles off the line within three years, according to Elon Musk’s presentation with Senior Vice President Drew Baglino during Tesla’s “Battery Day” event, which took place on September 22, 2020. Many have since expressed skepticism, as dropping the base price from $35,000 to $25,000 sounds like a tall order. As part of a lofty 10-year plan for sustainability by Tesla, it seems all the more likely that Musk will not meet his goal.
Indeed, in the couple of weeks since the announcement made waves, there has been no development or demonstration proving this new battery actually works as well as Tesla says it does. There has been no data published or demonstration to show that the battery does what it says. Will we really be able to buy a Tesla for $25,000 in 2023?
Visionary or Eccentric Spendthrift?
“It’s incredibly important that we accelerate the advent of sustainable energy,” Musk said at the event. To his credit, he has been at the front lines of efforts to reach the lofty goal of a sustainable future by founding Tesla, committed to producing fully electric automatic cars. With other groundbreaking companies such as SpaceX and innovative design plans such as the Hyperloop, Musk seems like he’s just the man to help us reduce our emissions footprint.
While the eccentric billionaire is known for lofty goals that some may see as visionary, some others might see them as science fiction – if just because it would cost too much to become a reality. Indeed, one of the most salient obstacles to realizing their dream of introducing electric cars to the market and lowering emissions has been the company’s exuberant prices.
Increased environmental awareness and immediacy to act have made the electric car more and more desirable, but fully electric cars like Teslas have simply not been affordable to make a big enough dent. Many environmentally-minded car enthusiasts have simply been waiting too long to believe that Musk will be able to pull it off by 2023.
Compounded with this, cynics will be worried about all the government funds given to Tesla, and whether not meeting his goals may cost even more in government grants. In spite of results often falling short of goals, Tesla has received billions in government aid to make a fully electric car a viable option for consumers. For most car owners, it has simply not delivered on its goal of being a viable vehicle, while taxpayers end up footing the bill for Musk’s expensive dreams.
Need for change
The one thing driving the need for innovation more than anything else is the perceived immediacy of our planet’s crisis. Due to the repeated reports and warnings from scientists about carbon emissions and the desolation of pristine wildlife reserves around the planet, it certainly appears as if we are on the precipice of another extinction event. The type that happens once in a couple hundred of millions of years. And if we don’t make serious changes, we might soon be just as extinct as the dodo bird.
As controversial as global climate change remains, more and more people are convinced of the need to go green now. Examples like recent wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters only boost the number of potential buyers. As the age-old adage goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
According to EPA statistics from 2018, transportation accounted for 28.2% of the greenhouse gases emitted in the US. The popularity of hybrid and fully electric cars is all the evidence you need to see people want to make a change and reduce emissions. But a safe, reliable electric car in the $25,000 range is necessary if we ever wish to reach near-zero emissions on the roads. Whether this happens in 2023 or 2033, people will certainly be lining up for these cars.
The quest for affordability
Tesla cars have found difficulty competing in the more affordable car market. When the first Roadsters rolled off the assembly line in 2008, it’s not like they were competing against cars by the average consumer, such as Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. Teslas were competing with Ferrari and Jaguars instead of cars for the average Joe, and are now descending from luxury car price ranges with $35,000 for their cheapest car.
Even with a federal tax benefit and other incentive benefits from states like California, the $25,000 price tag has been unattainable. Currently, the only way to get to under $30,000 when buying a Tesla is with the $7,500 in federal tax credits and other benefits. Some states, such as California, offer additional tax incentives to boost sales and reduce the emissions on the road.
While that’s all very well and good for Tesla’s more affluent customer base, this still isn’t enough to make the car manufacturer compete with cheaper cars and the layman motorist. For one, only people who pay $7,500 can redeem the full amount, and those opting for a vehicle under $30,000 aren’t necessarily paying that much in income tax.
It seems that the $25,000 milestone is just what Tesla needs to be more relevant in our future, as it is currently the most popular singular manufacturer of fully electric cars. Instead of being relegated to the dustbin of history as a company that made significant innovations, but was eventually taken over by other companies, a $25,000 Tesla model could be the Model T that transforms the automobile industry.
So how are they going to do it? In addition to other goals to improve sustainability and cut costs for Tesla’s wider operations, Musk’s new battery will have several important innovations that, if all goes according to plan, will drop the price by $10,000 for their cheapest model by 2023. Among the most exciting developments Tesla announced for cutting down costs is their new “tabless” battery cell.
Current Tesla batteries feature tabs, and for “cylindricals to be able to get rid of tabs dramatically simplifies winding and coating,” Drew Bagliano said at the event.
What does that mean? Without getting too technical, lithium-ion batteries like the ones that power Tesla cars have a tab that acts as a bridge for energy to travel out of the battery. While the new batteries still work on many of the same principles as batteries traditionally used, the new batteries appear to improve so that the task of one single tab is spread out, promising to reduce the amount of energy wasted, notably on cooling.
Furthermore, in addition to innovations that reduce friction and energy lost from heat, the battery will also feature a nickel cathode instead of cobalt. Nickel is a cheaper alternative, yet cobalt has traditionally been preferred because it is safer and more resistant to heat.
Safe and sustainable?
Whether nickel will actually work and not make the Tesla battery a driving hazard remains to be seen. Back in the 1970s, the Ford Pinto was seen as a cheap and affordable car that checked all the boxes. The only issue? It had a tendency to catch on fire if you got rear-ended…
It’s too early to condemn Tesla’s $25,000 model as unsafe, but it’s also too early to say that it is. We will just need to wait to see if Tesla’s tabless batteries deliver on their promise, but just moving from cobalt to nickel is seen as a step toward greater sustainability.
Tesla plans to get nickel from recycled sources, and this notably comes after a December 2019 lawsuit in which Tesla was named, along with other prominent tech firms like Apple and Google. These companies allegedly aided and abetted child abuse in Congolese cobalt mines by buying from these locations. Yikes! That’s not something Tesla wants to be associated with, particularly not as an ostensible flagbearer of sustainability.
Hopefully the nickel will be able to withstand the high performance with the new design because, as Baglino said, the battery will provide “five times the energy with six times the power.” But why doesn’t the newer design raise production prices?
Tabless for seamless production
Musk explained that production costs without tabs will drop because the battery won’t need to be removed each time for the attachment of the tab. This makes production increasingly brilliantly seamless and simple. Musk and Baglino even showed a video depicting the ease and apparent efficiency of the production line.
It all seems so simple, but car manufacturers will likely see astronomical drops in sales for comparable models if Tesla can truly offer a $25,000 car. Tesla is already the premier fully electric car manufacturer in the world, and their innovations may help corner the market and simultaneously kill the hybrid car-market.
That being said, Tesla is far from the only car manufacturer bent on producing an affordable and fully electric car. We’ll just need to see what the other car companies have up their sleeves for 2023.