Tesla to Expand Battery R&D Unit
Tesla plans to crank up its own in-house battery development team.
The electric car company already operates an experimental battery R&D facility at its vehicle assembly plant in Fremont, Calif. The complex also has a small battery assembly area.
What Tesla has in mind is an expansion of those operations that would employ 470 people, Reuters reports, citing a local construction permit application. Some 400 of those staffers would be deployed in shifts such that 100 are working at manufacturing and production at any time day or night.
The project, dubbed Roadrunner, appears to be a unit being set up to help launch a new variant of the lithium-ion batteries used by Tesla and most other EV makers today.
Reports last month cited Roadrunner as a code name to describe a battery design that promises greater energy density, far less need for costly cobalt and double the service life of current chemistries.
Tesla and researchers from Canada’s Dalhousie University patented the new chemistry last year. The carmaker also has been working with China’s CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd.) to commercialize the design.
News reports in May indicated that Tesla would announce the Roadrunner during a “Battery Day” presentation, which has since been tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15. Sources told Reuters at the time that the new battery would debut by early 2021 in the Model 3 sedans Tesla produces outside Shanghai for the Chinese market.
Slashing Battery Costs
The Roadrunner battery reportedly could lower battery costs to less than $80 per kilowatt-hour from more than $100 today, thereby making EVs comparable in cost to piston-powered vehicles.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s long-held goal is to cut EV battery costs by at least 30% simply by producing them at very high volumes. He also wants Tesla to eventually make its own battery cells.
Tesla gets most of the conventional batteries for its California-made EVs from the Gigafactory it operates outside Reno, Nev., with partner Panasonic. The company also has signed supply deals with CATL and South Korea’s LG Chem.
What It Means
Many carmakers are pursuing next-generation batteries with the lower cost and more power they need to propel EV sales into the mainstream. Tesla appears determined to get there first.
The good news about downsized powertrains is that they can provide greatly improved fuel efficiency compared to larger engines. The not-so-good news for many drivers of cars with these smaller engines under the hood is that they can lack performance.
During a recent meeting we attended held by Robert Bosch in its North American headquarters in Farmington Hills, we learned about a variety of initiatives related to such things as Industry 4.0 and advances in automotive technology for automated solutions.
You might be surprised to learn that there is presently a Ford Transit 350HD that is chock full of lithium-ion batteries that you can get right now that doesn’t come out of Dearborn but Loveland, Colorado.