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    All About The New Tesla Batteries: Range, Charging Speed, Costs

    Aug 15,2022 | Chloe Lacour

    Soon two years after their presentation, Tesla's 4680 format cells are beginning to be integrated into American manufacturers' vehicles. Who makes them, what are the customer benefits, and what will the future of batteries look like at Tesla? Here is everything you need to know about these new batteries!

    At the end of the summer of 2020, Tesla presented a revolutionary new battery cell during its Battery Day, simply named: 4680. Two years later, the first vehicles from Elon Musk's firm to be equipped with it rolled off the lines. manufacturer's a production line, and then it's time to compare promises to reality.

    We are going to come back today to everything we know about 4680 cells, in an attempt to define their interest in 2022 for the customer as for Tesla. In addition, we will recall the main differences with the classic cells used so far in the brand's vehicles, before examining how the competition had to respond to what was presented by the Texan company. Will the 4680 cells be able to profoundly transform the electric vehicle as we know it in terms of cost, range, and charging power?

    PRESENTATION OF THE “4680” CUBICLES

    Why are we talking about "4680" cells when we talk about the new cells presented by Tesla? Quite simply because it is a cylinder 46 millimeters in diameter and 80 millimeters high, as opposed to the classic format used until now called 2170 — you guessed it, a cylinder 21 millimeters in diameter for 70 millimeters high.

    The image above had been shared by Tesla during the presentation and summarizes in a few key figures the gain expected by using this 4680 format compared to what was present in 2020 in the brand's vehicles. We learn that they store five times more energy and release six times more power. Of course, the numbers are for a single 2170 cell, not an entire battery pack: there won't be five times as much energy stored in a pack of 4680 cells of comparable size and weight — given that there will be fewer 4680 cells than 2170 cells in the same volume.

    Indeed, once the battery pack is made up, the expected autonomy with a pack of 4680 cells should be 16% greater than on a pack equipped with the old format of cells, with comparable volume and weight. This should, for example, allow a Tesla Model Y to exceed 650 kilometers of WLTP autonomy, against 565 kilometers today.

    The advantage of these 4680 cells, other than the figures mentioned above, is the simplification of the manufacturing process, due to their innovative design, but also the reduction of costs. Tesla is thus making drastic progress on one of the big problems of the current decade: the production of battery cells. Demand will explode in the coming years, and there is no doubt that manufacturers with the least complex production circuit possible will be the big winners.

    The secret of the design of the 4680 cells lies in a small connector or tongue ( tab in English), or rather in the absence of said connector ( tabless design ). Usually, one or more metallic connectors are soldered at the electrodes of a cell, in order to allow electrons to move from the negative pole to the positive pole. With his design that eliminates these small connectors, Tesla replaces them with a long conductor that runs all along the anode, allowing electrons to divide by five the distance to travel to go from the anode to the cathode.

    By minimizing the distance to be covered, the temperature of the cell will rise much less, thus limiting the risks of explosion or fire, but above all allowing more energy to be stored than in a smaller cell at an equivalent temperature. Thus, Tesla's promise is to change the trend that has been followed by the whole industry until now, of saying that the bigger the cells, the less quickly they can charge.

    Be careful, however, not to fall into a shortcut that we can sometimes read: Tesla did not promise to reduce the charging time thanks to its 4680 cells, but rather announced that it would be only very slightly increased compared to its cells in 2170 format, as the graphic above summarizes.

    This whole theory about Tesla's new cells is now being tested in the real world since some vehicles must have this 4680 format to see the light of day. Let's see what the manufacturer has planned.

    VEHICLES THAT SHOULD BENEFIT
    On Battery Day 2020, Tesla made clear what was planned for the 4680 cells, in the form of a new revolution: the structural pack. Until now, battery cells were assembled into modules, and several modules formed a battery pack, which was then placed on the vehicle chassis. With its new 4680 cells, Tesla plans to make the battery pack a structural element of the vehicle ( cell-to-pack ), in the sense that it would be the pack itself that would connect the front to the rear of the car. , forming an integral part of the chassis.

    The idea is innovative in automotive but takes its inspiration from aviation, where aircraft wings are sometimes built like tanks, rather than having to add a tank inside a wing. It's the same principle for the structural battery pack, thus enabling a weight reduction of around 10%, and saving up to 370 bodywork parts and components.

    This 4680 cell structural pack is essential for at least three vehicles coming to Tesla: the Roadster, the Cybertruck, and the Tesla Semi. You will no doubt have noticed that these are vehicles announced a long time ago (2017 for the Semi and the Roadster, 2019 for the Cybertruck ) and that they are far from arriving on the market.

    Indeed, in addition to the delays to which Elon Musk's firm has accustomed us to the release of its previous models, it is not possible to deliver this trio of electric vehicles without the famous 4680 cells. The Roadster needs its power and the Semi economies of scale that cannot be achieved on other cells that are more complex to produce. The Cybertruck meanwhile requires not only these 4680 cells but a body manufacturing process that is not yet ready.

    Two years after the Battery Day presentation, however, there are a few 4680 cells in the wild, and several companies have started producing them to meet Tesla's future demand. So let's see where these cells come from today.

    WHO MANUFACTURES 4680 CELLS?

    Tesla has a pilot production line for 4680 cells at its factory in Fremont, Calif., but is failing to meet production targets set nearly two years ago. Indeed, during the presentation of the financial results for the second quarter of 2022, the company confirmed that there were not enough cells to produce 1,000 cars per week, which amounts to admitting that the current production expected is under 4 GWh.

    The plan was as follows: produce 10 GWh of 4680 cells in 2021 with the pilot line at its Fremont plant, 100 GWh in 2022 including the other lines that were to be built. It is clear that we are currently very far from the mark. Tesla does have a production line in its Gigafactory in Austin, Texas in addition to the pilot line in Fremont, but there was still none in Berlin or Shanghai in the second quarter of 2022.

    Consequently, other players have come to Tesla's rescue to supply cells in the 4680 formats that meet the manufacturer's specifications. In this way, Tesla will be able to benefit from a much larger quantity of 4680 cells than its pilot lines can produce.

    We can notably cite LG, Panasonic, and even Samsung, with whom Tesla has concluded contracts concerning these batteries, but unfortunately, the volume of production remains anecdotal to date, far from the expected 100 GWh. Anyway, the production of the 4680 cells, as low as it is, allowed Tesla to incorporate it into its flagship vehicle of the moment: the Tesla Model Y. At the moment available only at the exit of the Gigafactory from Austin, it allows us to see what this new cell format can bring for the customer, but also for Tesla.

    THE INTEREST OF 4680 CELLS TODAY
    The promises of the 4680 cells were not necessarily well understood during Battery Day, where some thought it was going to be a real revolution for the end customer. Unfortunately, that's far from the case, and the gain will be more for Tesla than for consumers, at least initially.

    BETTER AUTONOMY
    The Tesla Model Ys delivered with 4680 cells leaving the Texas factory are scrutinized by many people interested in this promising technology, and the first feedback from customers has identified certain technical characteristics. First of all, the battery pack of these Tesla Model Y offers a capacity of approximately 63 kWh, and autonomy in the EPA cycle displayed at 450 kilometers. For comparison, the Tesla Model Y Long Range in the USA is supplied with a 78 kWh battery pack in 2170 format, and the range in the EPA cycle is 530 kilometers.

    SLIGHTLY SLOWER CHARGING
    Thus, a simple rule of three makes it possible to anticipate the autonomy of a Tesla Model Y equipped with 78 kWh of 4680 cells at approximately 555 kilometers, or approximately 5% better than the old format, against approximately 16% announced by Tesla at the time of Battery Day. Additionally, early Supercharging tests revealed a charging curve that was nothing out of the ordinary, as it took 30 minutes to go from 5 to 80 percent battery, while it takes five minutes less to do the same exercise on Tesla equipped with 2170 format cells.

    However, this was to be expected, firstly because Tesla uses data from its fleet to optimize charging curves over the life of the vehicles, but also because of the larger diameter of the cells. , which will limit the allowable charging power. We talked about it above, the difficulty of larger cells lies in their ability to support fast charges, and even if Tesla had announced success in limiting the impact on the duration of Supercharging, he promised nothing better than the current.

    The gains for the end customer are not yet there, but for Tesla, the 4680 will allow substantial economies of scale, which will – we hope – be passed on to the end customer when production has taken off. It is a saving of around 56% in the cost of the kilowatt hour to be produced which is expected, distributed in different places of the production chain:

    • 14% due to cell format change
    • 18% due to a reduction in energy consumption and production line size
    • 5% thanks to the use of silicone in the cell
    • 12% due to cathode improvements
    • 7% thanks to the structural pack

    In addition, if weight reductions could have been expected, the latest comparisons between a Tesla Model Y Long Range equipped with 78 kWh of 2170 cells, and a Tesla Model Y leaving the Austin factory, with 63 kWh of cells 4680 show a very small deviation on the scale. Indeed, despite some 15 kWh less, there are only 9 kilograms less for the Model Y carrying the cells in 4680 formats. bodywork.

    A FUTURE PRICE DROP?
    Thus, although we have to wait for production volumes to take off, Tesla will be able to drastically reduce the costs associated with manufacturing batteries and therefore the purchase price of its vehicles. This will also allow him to launch the Cybertruck, Roadster, and Semi. But Elon Musk recently announced that no price cut would take place without reducing inflation.

    Although Tesla has made a strong impression with its 4680 cells, other players intend to find a place in the sun, and not leave Tesla alone in the lead. Let's examine the proposals of other manufacturers to try to beat the Texan company in the game of the best possible battery.

    THE COMPETITION IS ORGANIZED
    If some manufacturers, like Kia, Hyundai, or Porsche, already pride themselves on offering batteries with 800 Volt architecture that can recharge much faster than the future 4680 batteries from Tesla, the Chinese giant CATL seems to go even further. Indeed, it announced at the beginning of summer 2022 a future battery called “  Qilin 3.0  ” offering up to 1,000 kilometers of autonomy, and a charge of 10 to 80% of the battery in just ten minutes. The appointment is made for 2023 with regard to the first vehicles which will be equipped with it.

    More recently, CATL again promised to cut this time in half, reaching 80% charge in just five minutes thanks to new cells, the details of which are not yet known. The deadlines have not been communicated on this new technology, but Tesla will definitely not be alone in offering cells with new properties.

    CATL's innovations will undoubtedly benefit Tesla, however, as it seeks to source battery cells in any way possible. Currently, CATL supplies the LFP (Lithium-Iron-Phosphate) battery packs of the Tesla Model 3 Propulsion for the Shanghai factory, showing that the firm Elon Musk is not reluctant to have a partnership with the Chinese giant in the sector. In Europe, Volkswagen has also started its revolution in the world of batteries, with its famous unified cell which will soon be produced in Germany.

    It is therefore very likely that the future of Tesla vehicles will not only be composed of batteries with 4680 format cells: as long as demand is much higher than supply, the firm of Elon Musk has every interest in accepting cells. from all walks of life, as long as they respect the imposed specifications.

    Be that as it may, in the context of the shortage of raw materials which has drastically increased, Tesla's 4680 cells are not close to being the majority in the group's various vehicles. 2023 will undoubtedly be a defining year, with the Gigafactory in Berlin expected to start producing its own cells by then.

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