Elon Musk ended Tesla’s big battery event Tuesday evening with some big promises about the pricing of Tesla’s future cars and the announcement of a new ultra-fast version of today’s Model S.
After reviewing improvements in Tesla’s own battery designs and manufacturing advancements that could result in huge reductions in battery costs, Musk promised a $25,000 Tesla electric car that would be available in about three years.
That would be much cheaper than any car Tesla has made so far. Musk has a history of sometimes under-delivering on promises, or even not delivering at all. Years ago, Tesla promised a $35,000 electric car, the Tesla Model 3, but even then the Model 3 was only available at that price for a short time.
Musk also promised on Tuesday that the $25,000 car would be capable of driving fully autonomously, a difficult feat because the sensors and other equipment needed for even partly autonomous driving are expensive. And even as he touted the company’s ambitious future plans, he admitted that the company’s fully-autonomous driving software experienced unforeseen challenges, prompting a “fundamental rewrite” of the “entire software stack,” though he did not detail when that rewrite occurred.
In years past, Musk had gone so far as to predict that Teslas equipped with the company’s “Full Self Driving” hardware would be capable of a “coast-to-coast” autonomous trip by the end of 2017. His self-imposed deadlines have repeatedly been pushed back, however.
Musk also announced that Tesla is taking orders now for the new three-motor Tesla Model S with “Plaid Mode,” a version capable of producing 1,100 horsepower. This car will be able to go from zero to 60 miles an hour in under two seconds and run a quarter-mile drag strip in under nine seconds. Costing about $140,000, the Model S Plaid will have a top speed of 200 miles an hour and will be able to go 520 miles on a full charge, according to Tesla.
By comparison, the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, a specialized drag strip car, was capable of going from zero to 60 in 2.3 seconds and running a quarter-mile in 9.65 seconds, according to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Customers can order the Model S Plaid now, Musk said, and the first ones will be delivered by the end of next year.
The name “Plaid Mode,” like that of the the slightly slower “Ludicrous Mode” available in today’s Model S, is taken from the movie Spaceballs, a 1987 parody of Star Wars directed by Mel Brooks. In Star Wars, when spaceships entered “hyperspace” and were traveling faster than the speed of light, the movie screen filled with streaks of smeared starlight. In Spaceballs, a spaceship could go so fast that the streaks of lights became plaid.
During the lengthy presentation, Musk and Andrew Baglino, Tesla’s head of powertrain development, detailed improvements the company has made in its battery design and battery manufacturing capabilities. These advancements could lead to massive reductions in battery costs per kilowatt hour, a measure of a battery’s energy-holding capabilities, they said.
With improved battery cell designs and simplified manufacturing processes, Tesla hopes to attain “terawatt hour scale” manufacturing of batteries. One terawatt hour is 1,000 gigawatt hours or a trillion watt hours. Tesla achieved annualized production of 20 gigawatt hours at its Nevada battery factory in 2018, according to the company’s website. At that rate, it was already the highest volume battery production factory in the world, Tesla claims. By 2022, Tesla aims to be producing 100 gigawatt hours annually and, by 2030, 3 terawatt hours.
Musk and Baglino also predicted that, in the future, Tesla batteries would be fully recyclable so that mining lithium would no longer be needed.
Musk spent a large part of the evening talking about manufacturing, a topic he frequently discusses at length.
“Tesla is aiming to be the best at manufacturing of any company on Earth,” he said.
Ultimately, Tesla hopes to make 20 million vehicles a year, Musk said, a figure greater than all passenger vehicles sold in the United States last year. By comparison, Volkswagen Group, which sells Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and other brands, sold 11 million vehicles worldwide in 2019.
Despite Musk’s concentration on the subject, Tesla has struggled with manufacturing cars at high volume and with good quality. The company scored very poorly in the most recent J.D. Power Initial Quality survey, and the company’s initial struggle to assemble its entry-level Model 3 eventually led to cars being assembled in a tent outside the company’s Fremont, California factory.
Musk also outlined a new engineering structure for future Tesla cars in which the front and rear framework of the car would each be made of a single cast piece of aluminum alloy. These would be joined to the battery pack which would, itself, actually form a major part of the car’s structure.
“Its the way all electric cars in the future will ultimately be made,” Musk predicted.