Economist interviews Tesla CTO JB Straubel on cars, planes, batteries and the energy industry

Great interview, not much new however if you follow Tesla and its CTO into the energy industry. Some interesting bits:

Why did Tesla act differently? For a start, it does not think of itself as a carmaker. “I see us more as an energy-innovation company,” says Jeffrey “JB” Straubel, the firm’s chief technology officer, and one of the co-founders of Tesla, along with Elon Musk, the chief executive. “If we can reduce energy-storage prices, it’s the most important thing we can do to make electric vehicles more prevalent,” says Mr Straubel. “Add in renewable power and I have a direct line of sight towards an entire economy that doesn’t need fossil fuels and doesn’t need to pay more to do it.”…

Mr Straubel met Mr Musk, a freshly minted multimillionaire from the sale of his PayPal digital-payments company to eBay. “One lunch was the beginning of what eventually became Tesla,” says Mr Straubel. “We spent most of the meal talking about electric aeroplanes. But as we were wrapping up, I said I was working on a fun crazy project with cars, trying to build a lithium-ion battery pack that could last 1,000 miles.”…

“Most other companies do not believe that battery volume will grow as fast as it’s going to,” Mr Straubel counters. “They don’t understand the tight linkage between cost and volume. We’re at this crossing-point where a small reduction in cost is going to result in a ridiculously big increase in volume, because the auto industry is so big.”…

“No one wishes we could come up with a technology that makes today’s chemistry obsolete more than me,” says Mr Straubel. “We could sell more cars at a lower price. But we’re not waiting.”

Elon Musk talks Model S P85D, “This is a halo car for Tesla”, and much more in GQ interview

In case you missed it, Elon Musk sat down for an interview with GQ Magazine last week where the Tesla CEO commented on a random smattering of interesting tidbits.

While much of the interview treads on familiar ground, such as Tesla opening up their patents and Musk’s general thoughts on the state of the car industry, there are a few nuggets worth highlighting.

For instance, Musk talks briefly about development of the Tesla Model S P85D:

This is a halo car for Tesla. We didn’t do it from the beginning because it adds complexity, and we already had enough fish to fry just making a car that worked. But it was always something we expected to do. We wanted to position it as the fastest in order to change the public mindset. It had to be something dramatic. And getting those few extra 10ths of a second was hard.

As for consumer interest in Tesla’s highest-end model, it appears that the problem is supply more so than demand, certainly an enviable problem to have. Speaking to that, Musk notes that “demand for the P85D is off the charts.”

With respect to the highly anticipated Model 3, Musk noted that Tesla is hoping to get the sticker price down to just half that of the Model S, a goal which precipitated development of the gargantuan Gigafactory in Nevada.

We need the Gigafactory because there currently isn’t enough battery cell capacity for a high-volume, pure electric car at any price. The Model 3 is 20% smaller than the Model S, so the battery pack can be just 80% of the size, but we’re aiming for a 50% price reduction from the S, so we need the factory to make it affordable.

Musk is certainly a colorful personality, and the interview is well worth checking out in its entirety. Again, you won’t find too much new information to digest, but the story provides a good background of Tesla’s goals and Musk’s strategy to bring said goals to fruition.

Elon Musk takes to Twitter to end the “debate”: Model X will have Falcon Wing doors

Franz von Holzhausen

The Model X is coming. No, really, it is. Despite some delays, Tesla earlier this week sent out an email reassuring reservation holders that the hotly anticipated Model X will begin shipping to customers with pre-orders sometime during the third quarter of 2015.

Of course, anytime a highly anticipated product — whether it be a smartphone or a car — is subject to delays, the rumor mill starts churning, often times taking us down a path completely soaked with idle speculation.

Such was the case with the Model X earlier this week when an analyst from none other than Morgan Stanley issued a note to investors articulating that engineering difficulties with the Model Xs’ Falcon Wing doors are likely behind the vehicle’s delay. Naturally, some folks took the report and ran with it, leading some to start wondering, “Is there any chance the Model X won’t come with Falcon Wing doors?”

In a word, “No.”

But don’t take my word for it. In an effort to nip such rumors in the bud, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter early on Wednesday to dispel any notion that the Model X would be doing away with its, dare I say, iconic doors.

Well that settles that. And now we can all go back to impatiently waiting for the Model X to hit the streets.

Tesla rounds up yesterday’s announcements and video

If you weren’t able to see the livestream last night, Tesla now have a video and summary:

Yesterday, we unveiled the world’s first dual electric motor production car and announced that new safety and autopilot hardware is standard on every new Model S.

Conventional all wheel drive vehicles distribute power to the wheels from a single engine driving a complex mechanical transmission system. By contrast, Dual Motor Model S, which comes with either the 60 kWh or 85 kWh battery, has a motor on each axle, digitally and independently controlling torque to the front and rear wheels. The result is unparalleled control of traction, with instantaneous response to the motors giving drivers precisely controlled performance in all conditions. With its digital torque controls and low center of gravity, Dual Motor Model S has the most capable road holding and handling of any vehicle ever produced.

Where gasoline-powered all wheel drive cars sacrifice efficiency in return for all weather traction, Tesla’s Dual Motor propulsion system actually increases efficiency while delivering exceptional traction and control in slippery conditions. By precisely splitting the delivery of current from the battery to each motor, the Model S 85D and 60D actually gain an additional 10 miles of highway driving range compared to their rear motor Model S counterparts.

Consistent with our mission, we also wanted to demonstrate that an electric car can soundly beat gasoline cars on efficiency and pure performance. The Model S P85 already outperforms gasoline-powered cars in the same class with its ability to deliver 100 percent of peak torque from a standing start. We combined our new front drive unit and our P85 rear motor with the objective of outperforming one of the greatest supercars of all time, the McLaren F1. With P85D’s 0 to 60 mph performance of 3.2 seconds, we have succeeded.

The P85D combines the performance of the P85 rear motor with an additional 50 percent of torque available from our new front drive unit. The result is the fastest accelerating four-door production car of all time – while remaining one of the most efficient cars on the road. That’s a combination that can only be achieved by an electric car. Not only is the P85D a match for the McLaren F1, but it also doesn’t need a professional driver to achieve optimum performance. Just plant your foot and go.

Customers can order a Dual Motor Model S today. Deliveries of P85D begin in December for North America, to be followed 85D and 60D in February. Deliveries to Europe and Asia will follow in the months afterwards.

 

New Safety Features and Autopilot

The launch of Dual Motor Model S coincides with the introduction of a standard hardware package that will enable autopilot functionality. Every single Model S now rolling out of the factory includes a forward radar, 12 long range ultrasonic sensors positioned to sense 16 feet around the car in every direction at all speeds, a forward looking camera, and a high precision, digitally controlled electric assist braking system.

Building on this hardware with future software releases, we will deliver a range of active safety features, using digital control of motors, brakes, and steering to avoid collisions from the front, sides, or from leaving the road.

Model S will be able to steer to stay within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by reading road signs and using active, traffic aware cruise control.

Our goal with the introduction of this new hardware and software is not to enable driverless cars, which are still years away from becoming a reality. Our system is called Autopilot because it’s similar to systems that pilots use to increase comfort and safety when conditions are clear. Tesla’s Autopilot is a way to relieve drivers of the most boring and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel – but the driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.

The Autopilot hardware opens up some exciting long term possibilities. Imagine having your car check your calendar in the morning (a feature introduced in Software v6.0), calculate travel time to your first appointment based on real time traffic data, automatically open the garage door with Homelink, carefully back out of a tight garage, and pull up to your door ready for your commute. Of course, it could also warm or cool your car to your preferences and select your favorite morning news stream.

The introduction of this hardware is just the first step for Autopilot in Model S. We will continue to develop new capabilities and deliver them through over-the-air software updates, keeping our customers at the forefront of driving technology.

 

Other Product Updates

Our commitment to continuous improvement extends to other features of Model S, and we have recently made several updates to the car, including:

  • Seat comfort improvements and taller headrests for whiplash protection
  • Improvements for a quieter cabin
  • Wider rear door opening
  • Electrically opening, self-closing charge port door on Dual Motor Model S
  • Increased visor size and larger vanity mirror
  • Parcel shelf and front trunk cargo net now standard
  • Air ionizer and carbon filter for cabin air purity
  • Updated steering column
  • Updates to Alcantara interior trim, such as wrapped roof bow and top pad

Tesla D event predictions: sub-4 second 0-60 time for AWD Model S, radical new look Model X production update, autonomous driving roadmap

9to5-image 2014-10-08 at 10.50.31 AM

I’m very excited to announce that I’m going to be going to LA for the Tesla D event launch and will be liveblogging it as it happens. Come back here Thursday evening at 7PM for all of the excitement.

We know a few things about the event, I’ve heard whispers on some other stuff, and I’ve got some learned speculation on other possibilities that might be announced. Here we go… Read more

Tesla’s D appears to be AWD P85D Model S, spotted in the wild

9to5-image 2014-10-02 at 11.07.13 PM

We might now know what Elon Musk teased about in his Tweet yesterday. The below shot was taken at a central California Airport and appears to show a P85D Model S (It doesn’t appear at first glance to be ‘shopped but you never know).

That Beechcraft in the background is registered in Mojave, CA. Full info on that plane: Aircraft Data N5717V, 1966 Beech 35-C33 C/N CD-1027. Metadata from the picture says it was snapped on Sept. 19th.

At this point it would seem that the new version could include AWD with Dual motors which would make it great for the upcoming Winter. We’ll know in a few short days.

 

Tesla P85D.

Two New Yorkers take out Palo Alto magazine ad to request features from Tesla, CEO Elon Musk responds

Surely there had to be a better way? Personally, I’ve never wanted for much of this but I’ve also never had cars that had these features in the past either.  Full ad pasted below: Read more

Panasonic and Tesla finally agree to a battery partnership on US ‘gigafactory’ plant

Nikkei:
OSAKA — Panasonic has reached a basic agreement with Tesla Motors to participate in the Gigafactory, the huge battery plant that the American electric vehicle manufacturer plans to build in the U.S. Tesla aims to begin the first phase of construction this fiscal year. The plant would start making lithium-ion cells for Tesla cars in 2017. The automaker is shouldering the cost for the land and buildings.     Panasonic likely will invest 20 billion to 30 billion yen ($194-291 million) initially, taking responsibility for equipping the factory with the machinery to make the battery cells. An official announcement on the partnership will come by the end of this month.     Capacity at the Gigafactory will be added in stages to match demand, with the goal of producing enough battery cells in 2020 to equip 500,000 electric vehicles a year.     The total investment is expected to reach up to $5 billion, and Panasonic’s share could reach $1 billion.     The Japanese company owns a stake in Tesla and currently makes the batteries for Tesla cars. In a contract reworked in October 2013, the two agreed that Panasonic would supply Tesla with 2 billion battery cells between 2014 and 2017.
The partnership wasn’t ever a secret or really ever in doubt. Panasonic, I think, spent some extra time negotiating better terms. Both company’s stocks are spiking on the news.

Elon Musk says mass market Tesla car (Model 3) will have a ~48kWh battery, be 80% the size of the Model S

There is a lot of interesting info from a talk that Elon Musk gave at the CPUC last week. Of particular note, Musk gave some spec estimates for the mass market “Model E” vehicle expected to be released in 2017 with batteries coming from the Gigafactory. In the video above he says the car will have a 200 mile range and be 20% smaller than the Model S. Therefore the battery will need to have about 80% of the energy of the current Model S (Musk’s words). To be clear, since Tesla uses the constant sized 18650 cells (and looks to continue to do so) physical size and Watt-hours are fairly constant.

So given that a 60kWh Model S has a range of around 200 miles (EPA 208), that means that the Model E would need to have a battery around 80% the size of the Model S or 48kWh.

That’s still about double what leading ‘mass market’ electric cars have today. The Chevy Spark EV, with a range of 82 miles has a 21.3 kWh battery. The Nissan LEAF which has a 75 mile EPA range rating has a 24 kWh battery. The Chevy Volt has a 16kWh battery while the BMW i3 is 18.8.

Tesla cancelled its $49,000 40kWh battery Model S before it got an EPA estimate but most guesses were that it would get around 150 miles.  Add another 8kWh to the battery and take off 20% of the overall car size and 200 mile range seems doable.

Musk also mentions that besides the 20% drop in price, he expects economies of scale and other innovations to drop the price another 30% on the battery alone helping to get the Model E to around 50% the cost of the Model S at $35,000.

Below is a snippit of Musk talking about the upcoming battery swap: Read more

Panasonic and its partners to invest $1B in Tesla’s Battery Gigafactory, how does Tesla fund the rest?

You’ll recall that I picked Panasonic and Solar City to be among partners in Tesla’s upcoming Gigafactory announcement back in mid-January. I went on Bloomberg earlier this month to re-iterate those claims. Today, Panasonic got a little bit more official.

Reuters picks up a Nikkei report:

Panasonic Corp is inviting a number of Japanese materials suppliers to join it in investing in a U.S. car battery plant that it plans to build with Tesla Motors Inc, with investment expected to reach more than 100 billion yen ($979 million), the Nikkei reported.

The plant, expected to go on-stream in 2017, will bolster Panasonic’s supply of lithium-ion batteries to the U.S. electric-car maker.

Last week, Tesla shed some light on its plans for building a lithium-ion battery plant, or “giga factory,” that will cut battery costs and allow the company to launch a more affordable electric car in 2017. However, it said at the time that further details would be announced this week.

The U.S. plant, which will handle everything from processing raw materials to assembly, will produce small, lightweight batteries for Tesla and may also supply Toyota Motor Corp and other automakers, the Nikkei said.

Battery costs have been a major stumbling block to widespread electric car adoption in the United States, according to analysts. Tesla’s giga factory will lower costs by shifting material, cell, module and pack production to one spot.

In Tesla’s earnings conference call last week, Chief Executive Elon Musk said the electric car maker expects to build the factory with more than one partner, but a “default assumption” was that Panasonic, as a current battery cell partner, “would continue to partner with us in the giga factory.”

“The factory is really there to support the volume of the third generation car,” Musk said on the call. “We want to have the vehicle engineering and tooling come to fruition the same time as the giga factory. It is already part of one strategy, one combined effort.”

The pieces are starting to come together. The biggest question now is how Tesla funds the other $4B in costs. Will it issue more stock? Will it bring in some very rich partners like Apple? On that note we go to last week’s earnings call for more color on that: Read more