A Closer Look at Tesla's New 4680 Cell Battery Pack

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【Summary】​Tesla's new battery technology has generated a lot of excitement in the EV industry. Here’s what you need to know.

Manish Kharinta    Jan 09, 2021 3:05 AM PT
A Closer Look at Tesla's New 4680 Cell Battery Pack

Legacy automakers around the world are trying to catch up with Tesla now that the California company has become the world's most valuable car brand. Last week, Tesla's market cap topped $500 billion on its pending inclusion in the S&P 500, which is more than the cumulative net worth of automakers Volkswagen, Ford Motor Co., Hyundai, General Motors and Toyota.

However despite Tesla's market cap, the company only started building vehicles a decade ago. As a newcomer, Tesla doesn't enjoy the technology scaling and distributing privileges as other global auto groups. Still, the company is constantly improving its technology to maintain its lead over rival automakers.

When Tesla unveiled its all-new battery pack technology in September, it generated a lot of excitement in the auto industry. The all-new pack is built using the company's new 4680 cylindrical battery cells. 

The new cell design promises impressive cost benefits in addition to a 56% cost reduction of each kWh generated at the cell level, according to Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk.

Musk claims that the unique tabless, "shingle spiral" cell design can improve EV range by 16%. He also claims that Tesla's future batteries will offer almost 5 times more energy than their predecessors.

Tesla also plans to use the battery pack as a structural element rather than building an EV platform around it. It's estimated to improve the range by an additional 14%, since more cells can fit to provide greater structural support. 

The new 4680 cell design will offer improved thermal and electrical performance as well. The more energy dense batteries will allow Tesla to tweak the dimensions of the battery pack to its needs. Musk says that Tesla engineers will be able to increase the overall efficiency of the battery pack by 30%, without changing the chemistry of the cells.

A 30% bump in efficiency will translate into a whopping 520 miles of electric-only driving range. Right now, the Tesla Model S offers 402 miles of range respectively, making it the most efficient offering in Tesla's current portfolio.  

The 4680 batteries are expected to offer 300Wh/kg of energy density and probably even more. Musk believes that Tesla will be able to reduce investments in its battery plants by 69% for each GWh manufactured.   

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Tesla recently shared a teaser of its new battery pack that no longer features any individual modules. Each pack will feature 960 of the 4680 cylindrical batteries that replace the old 2170 type cells. The 4680 type cells are arranged in a 40x24 layout. 

Tesla released the first images of its all-new battery pack on the company's new "Join the Cell Team" website, which is serving as a recruitment tool to find engineers that can help Tesla develop the world's best EV batteries. Tesla is currently looking to hire thousands of new employees to help the brand in its aggressive expansion plan. 

The day before Tesla's battery event in September, Musk tweeted that Tesla wants to increase battery cell purchases from its suppliers Panasonic, LG & CATL (possibly other partners too). However, the company still foresees significant shortages in 2022 & beyond unless Tesla ramps up production.

While all of the tech specs sound impressive, Tesla's battery ambitions are really just a longer term goal right now. Musk said that designing and ramping the manufacturing system for the batteries is more than 90 percent of the challenge. He referred to the future battery factory as "The machine that makes the machine." 

Without a factory that can manufacture the new batteries at scale, Tesla is just 10% of the way there. But as the world's most valuable automaker, Tesla might eventually accomplish its goals.

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