Is Tesla Making A Dangerous Gamble On Battery Technology To Produce Semi And New Roadster?

Elon Musk may be banking on technology that doesn't exist yet

A press photo of a red Tesla Roadster
Tesla Motors

Elon Musk may be banking on technology that doesn't exist yet

Tesla’s Semi and next-generation roadster are set to revolutionize the EV industry, but that’s only if Elon Musk and Co. can get their batteries to work. Critics have said that the specs that Tesla has publicized are impossible given the current limitations of battery technology.

As Teslarati reported, Musk has claimed the Tesla Semi will be capable of transporting 80,000 pounds for 500 miles. He also said that the electric hauler will be able to recharge to 400 miles in only half an hour. If it happens, this would be a groundbreaking development in the commercial hauling industry. Tesla has also promised that the Roadster would accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under 2 seconds which would make it the fastest production car in the world.

But there’s a problem, critics are saying. These ambitious claims aren’t supported by the current realities of electric battery capacity. As Bloomberg reported, experts have suggested that Tesla is gambling on improvements in battery technology that don’t exist today, but might be created between now and the time that they’re ready to deliver these new vehicles.

“I don’t think they’re lying,” Sam Jaffe, battery analyst for Cairn Energy Research, said to Bloomberg. “I just think they left something out of the public reveal that would have explained how these numbers work.”

Could that “something” be an announcement about battery innovation that Tesla is trying to hide from its competitors?

Experts told Bloomberg that based on the specs Elon Musk outlined, the Tesla Semi would need a battery capacity of between 600 and 1,000 kilowatt hours. That’s way more than 5 times the size of the biggest Tesla Model S battery. Given today’s battery technology, an 800 kWh battery pack would weigh over 10,000 pounds and be priced much higher than $100,000. If that’s the likely cost of the battery, the Tesla starting price for the Semi, $150,000, is minuscule.

Elon Musk could be estimating that battery prices will decrease so that they can make a profit on their truck, Teslarati noted. The electric semi tucks won’t hit the roads until 2019. The companies who have made pre-orders like Walmart and DHL have made small orders and have indicated that they want to test the vehicle on shorter runs first. This may give Tesla time to adapt before the larger orders start rolling in. Battery prices could be cheaper by that time as well.

As for the Roadster, Tesla has promised a fast car that can go for 62o miles on a single charge. Bloomberg’s analysts have said that to do so, the electric sedan will require a 200 kWh battery pack which is double the size of Tesla’s largest battery. One expert predicted that the company would pile two battery packs one on top of the other, beneath the vehicle’s floor. Even with that prediction, he still believes that Tesla is banking on improvements in battery technology to make the Roadster work. And there’s good news on that front as battery density has been improving by about 8 percent per year. That’s without any notable developments in current battery chemistry.