Tesla has confirmed to Bloomberg that its longtime battery technology director, Kurt Kelty, has left the company.
Kelty was one of Tesla’s top battery scientists. In the 1990s, he was the founder and director of Panasonic U.S. battery R&D lab, which was an extension of the Japanese battery R&D lab. He worked for Panasonic’s battery division until 2006, when he joined Tesla to lead its battery technology effort.
He has been the lead negotiator of all of Tesla’s multi-billion dollar battery cell supply agreements with Panasonic. The latest supply contract for the 18650 li-ion cells in Model S and Model X vehicles was projected to last until the end of 2017.
More recently, he was ‘Senior Director of Cell Supply Chain & Business Development’. He was in charge of Gigafactory material sourcing and cell production at Tesla’s factory in partnership with suppliers under their roof in Sparks, Nevada, including his former employer, Panasonic.
Earlier this year, he gave a presentation about his work at Tesla’s Gigafactory during the International Battery Seminar, where he accepted the “Battery Innovator of the Year” award.
After laying the foundations for battery manufacturing at Gigafactory 1, he is now leaving just as the plant is about to ramp up production to support the Model 3 vehicle program.
Tesla CTO JB Straubel, who also leads battery technology at the company, confirmed that Model 3 battery cell production started in June and the company aims to reach an annual production rate of 35 GWh next year.
While Tesla confirmed the departure from the company, they refused to comment further and not much is known about the circumstances.
Update: Tesla sent us the following statement:
“We can confirm that Kurt Kelty has left the company to explore new opportunities and we want to thank him for everything he’s done for Tesla. Kurt’s responsibilities will be distributed among Tesla’s existing teams.”
But whatever he ends up doing next, Kelty’s expertise will certainly be coveted by other automakers looking to build a battery supply chain to support their upcoming electric vehicle programs – an aspect of electric vehicle production that several automakers, who claim to be serious about EVs, have been lacking.