Tesla Adding 4680 Batteries To Its Model Y EV Crossover
I was just contacted by Jerry, who is looking to buy a Model Y LR soon, but who wants to wait until Tesla builds their U.S. Model Ys with the new 4680 batteries.
Jerry wondered if Tesla might already be shipping the latest Model Ys with the new 4680 batteries. And how could we find out for sure if Tesla was secretly releasing their 4680 batteries in production models now.
This is always a concern of everyone who buys a new vehicle, but especially considering that Tesla announces some major design revisions years ahead (like at their recent Battery Day event), but releases the changes sporadically.
The quick answer is that I do not see the 4680 batteries being used in the U.S. Model Y until at least the end of this year, but I could be totally mistaken. Elon Musk has revealed that Tesla has plans for a revised Model Y with both front and rear cast frames, a structural battery case in between, using their new 4680 batteries. But Tesla also made a big deal about the fact that the upcoming European Model Y would be a unique version of the EV compared to the U.S. and Chinese built Model Ys. Still, Tesla does not want to upset the new China Model Y buyers, or slow U.S. Model Y sales with hopes of a better 4680 battery powered version of the EV coming soon.
I don't really see Tesla revising the Model Y and Model 3 with the new cast frames and batteries in the U.S. until the larger 4680 battery factories in Giga Texas, Giga Berlin, and Giga Nevada start producing the 4680 batteries in mass volumes. I suspect that Tesla may be stockpiling the 4680 battery production from Tesla's Kato road 4680 battery factory to export them to Giga Berlin to kick start the new Model Y production there. But this is just speculation.
We do know that the Plaid Model S and upcoming Plaid Model X will be using revised Panasonic 18650 batteries when they are released in the next month or two. But we also know that the 4680 batteries will definitely be used in the Plaid+ model, due later this year. Previously, I had guessed that different battery makers could produce their own versions of Tesla's 4680 batteries (using the 4680 battery format and tabless design) but perhaps without using Maxwell Technologies' dry electrode, high nickel chemistry. Much of this choice depends on whether Tesla needs Panasonic and LG's help in meeting their huge upcoming 4680 battery production needs. This is compared to Tesla's chances of ramping up their own 4680 battery mass production at their Giga factories. I don't see Tesla risking their innovative battery patents in China, but they could share them with their partner and investor Panasonic, and possibly LG Chem because of their shared battery production coming in Germany.
As far as being able to tell whether or not Tesla decides to "sneak" the 4680 batteries into earlier U.S. models, it is possible. But I do suspect that either the vehicle's weight will be lower due to fewer 4680 batteries needed for the same range and power, or the range capability will rise noticeably as is shown with the predicted 520+ mile range of the upcoming Model S Plaid+, the Plaid Cybertruck, and the 2022 Roadster. Tesla does have a history of silently integrating new improvements into currently shipping models without announcing them.
From software improvements, to design elements like the OctoValve, to safety and other hardware upgrades, to the latest unannounced Model Y console, headlight, and heated steering wheel updates, changes and improvements have been made without notification many times before. So this would not be unprecedented.
Like all modern automakers, Tesla is always faced with the "Osborne Effect", where announcing improvements to future models slows (or stops) sales of existing models. But I would be very surprised if Tesla decided to "sneak" the 4680 batteries into U.S. built Model Ys and Model 3s until at least the end of this year. The release of the Giga Berlin Model Y, which should be using Tesla's new 4680 batteries will probably be the next big news revealed by Tesla. Which I think will happen soon, before the $25K China-built "Model 2" production is formally announced.
What do you think?
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.