All of Tesla’s 4680 Batteries May Not Be Equal
During Tesla’s recent Battery Day event on September 22nd, 2020 Elon Musk announced Tesla’s new 4680 batteries, that promised 6X more power, and 16% better range than their current Panasonic 2170 batteries. They showed off the new, larger batteries, and talked about the new design of having tab-less batteries and a new structural battery case. Plus they said that the 4680 batteries built in the Fremont, Kato Rd. factory would use Maxwell’s dry cathode technology, being faster, cheaper, and cleaner to produce than today’s lithium ion batteries. Since then Tesla has talked about building a huge dedicated battery factory near Giga Berlin, and also producing batteries in Giga Texas.
At Battery Day, Tesla said that they would be using different battery materials compositions for different uses. Currently Tesla’s EV 2170 batteries in the U.S. are produced by Panasonic in Giga Nevada using a nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) cathode chemistry, which has very high energy density. And since Battery Day there have been announcements made saying that Panasonic would build a pilot 4680 battery line, and LG said that they would be making nickel, cobalt, manganese, and aluminum (NCMA) batteries for Tesla as well moving forward. CATL also makes lower cost (no cobalt) LFP batteries for China-built Model 3s. But CATL’s LFP chemistry has lower energy density and a different prismatic format cell.
Panasonic 4680 Battery Cells
I think that ultimately there could be 3 or 4 different types of 4680 batteries produced.
I think that Panasonic will build 4680 batteries that use Tesla's new tab-less design, but using their own NCA battery chemistry, and I think that LG will build (NCMA) 4680 batteries, and I think that CATL could even eventually build LFP based 4680 batteries. I suspect that with the initial low volume Tesla 4680 battery production, they may be limited to test and pilot vehicles for the first couple months. And Panasonic will probably continue to supply their new 2170L batteries for current models, but soon they could transition to producing NCA 4680 batteries, supplementing Fremont and further supporting the initial Texas Model Ys and Cybertrucks until the local Tesla 4680 battery factories scale up to mass production.
LG Chem 4680 Battery Cells
Similarly, I think that Berlin may have LG Chem (NCMA) 4680 batteries produced for Berlin and Shanghai Model Ys. With the new Giga Shanghai Model Ys available to order now, and deliveries due later this month, I have to wonder if they will be secretly shipping with LG NCMA or Panasonic NCA 4680 batteries from the beginning of production?
From a factory efficiency point of view it could make more sense to build all new Tesla vehicles using the cast frames, structural battery cases, and 4680 format batteries from the beginning. This one-platform model idea could also explain the Model S and X shutdown in Fremont, with Tesla retrofitting and adapting the production line using the upcoming Model Y and Model 3 4680 battery chassis design to update the legacy Model S and X. We know that at the very least the upcoming Model S Plaid will be using Tesla’s own 4680 batteries later this year, so why wouldn’t they update the whole Model S and Model X chassis line now?
CATL's 4680 LFP Batteries
As mentioned, I suspect that Shanghai may soon (within a year) offer less expensive CATL-built 4680 LFP batteries in cheaper base versions of Asia Tesla models. It would make sense to provide one common 4680 battery format to streamline production on one standard platform design, including the cast frames and structural 4680 battery case.
Ultimately I think that the top Plaid Model S, Cybertruck, Semi, Roadster, and Robotaxi Model 3s and Ys will all get Tesla’s own, high nickel, dry electrode 4680 batteries in late 2021, as the Kato Rd. (CA) and upcoming Giga Texas 4680 battery factories ramp up production to mass quantities later this year.
Do you think that Tesla will give away their Maxwell dry electrode technology and high speed battery factory production design to Panasonic and LG so there is only one type of Tesla 4680 batteries? Or do you think that Tesla will have their own proprietary 4680 batteries, alongside Panasonic’s 4680, and LG’s 4680 format batteries? Do you think that CATL will join the 4680 party with their own less expensive LFP based versions? Do you think that the upcoming MIC (Made in China) Model Ys will quietly start shipping with 4680 batteries? Or will they use the 2170L batteries and current chassis design so that the China-built Model Ys do not upstage the highly anticipated Giga Berlin Model Ys, which will have the cast frames, structural battery case, and NCA/NCMA 4680 batteries?
Dean McManis and an electric vehicle advocate and an instructional technology specialist at Cupertino Union School District. He lives in San Francisco Bay Area and frequently reports EV stories at Torque News. Dean can be reached on LinkedIn.