We already have long-range electric vehicles, like the Tesla Model S and X, and we even have long-range electric vehicles at a relatively affordable price, like the Chevy Bolt EV, but what we still need are long-range electric vehicles at a relatively affordable price and produced in volumes, and the very last piece of the puzzle which is a way to charge in less than 15 minutes.
Tesla plans to produce the Model 3 at a rate of over 400,000 per year, which should take care of the mass-produced long-range and relatively affordable electric vehicle, but now Tesla CEO Elon Musk also confirmed that the last piece is coming.
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Last weekend, I had a quick Twitter conversation with Musk during which he mentioned the third generation Tesla Supercharger. Tesla released a second generation of its DC fast-charging station last year that enabled a power output of 135-145 kW – up from the 120 kW of the first generation.
Now Musk’s answer to me asking whether Tesla’s next Supercharger will have an output greater than 350 kW clearly shows that such an output will be a joke compared to what he has in mind for the ‘Supercharger V3’:
It’s safe to assume that it will be significantly greater than 350 kW and could bring down the charging time of a 300-mile battery pack to 15 minutes or less.
That would completely remove any advantage that gas-powered cars have over EVs. Arguably, EVs are already more convenient since they have the advantage of overnight charging which enables an almost full pack every day, but for road trips, gas-guzzling vehicles have the clear advantage of being able to refuel and be back on the road within 5 minutes.
Tesla’s current vehicles will not be able to take that kind of power, but the new battery cells Tesla plans to manufacture at the Gigafactory for the Model 3 and its other vehicles are rumored to have been designed to be able to receive a much higher charge rate. It means that if the timing of the deployment of the new Supercharger V3 coincides with the release of the Model 3, the vehicle will have the trifecta of having a long range, being relatively cheap, and having the capacity to be recharged in 15 minutes or less.
While clearly not Tesla’s primary objective with the Supercharger V3, it will also have the consequence of generating significant revenue through ZEV credits.
A few years back, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) changed its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate to greatly advantage the few fuel cell vehicles made available in the state and in which they were investing millions to build refueling stations. By implementing a requirement for vehicles to have over 300 miles of range and the capacity to recharge to 95% in 15 minutes, CARB managed to make fuel cell vehicles more competitive than battery-powered cars by giving them 9 credits worth $5,000 each instead of 4 credits for battery-powered cars.
But the Supercharger V3 could change that and make Tesla’s new vehicles eligible to get all 9 credits. The battery swap program briefly enabled that, but it now looks like Tesla put the program on the back-burner. Supercharger V3 would be a permanent solution.
Tesla doesn’t get the full value of the credits like other automakers since it is not using them to subsidize a gas-guzzling car business, but depending on the market value, going from 4 to 9 credits could make a big difference in a large market like California.
At the current estimated market value of $4,000, it’s the difference between getting $16,000 and $36,000 for every car Tesla delivers in California, which is actually the equivalent of the starting price of the Model 3.
Since Tesla plans to dedicate the early production of the Model 3 to the Californian market where the company already has tens of thousands of reservations for the vehicle (we estimate at least 30,000), it could make the first few months of Tesla’s Model 3 production extremely profitable.
If the rules remain similar, Tesla could accumulate an incredible amount of credits worth anything from a few hundreds of millions to even $1 billion, but such an increase in the number of credits could affect the price and reduce their value. It’s important to note that it wouldn’t be public money. It would be money from other automakers who couldn’t produce enough zero-emission vehicles to accumulate enough credits to compensate for their gas-guzzling vehicles.
The money could be used to compensate for low gross margins associated with the early production of a new vehicle and to expand the production capacity – not to mention expanding the Supercharger network itself. Furthermore, while California is the biggest market with a ZEV mandate, other states have adopted a similar program and now it is spreading to other countries. Quebec recently adopted a ZEV mandate based on the California model.