The Rise of Tesla
May 1, 2023 | View PDF
As long-range battery technology advances by leaps and bounds, there is no question that the popularity of electric cars and trucks will rapidly advance in the next few decades, due primarily to far greater fuel economy and expected shortages of petroleum and possible cutoffs from OPEC and other hostile countries. Ford, General Motors, Toyota, and many others are ramping up production.
But one company is far ahead—TESLA. It makes ONLY EVs. In July, 2003, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded it as Tesla Motors. In February 2004, Elon Musk invested $6.5 million dollars to become its largest shareholder and later became its CEO in 2008.
In 2008, Tesla built and sold its Roadster, followed by its Model S sedan in 2012, Model X SUV in 2015, Model 3 sedan in 2017, Model Y SUV in 2020, and Semi truck in December, 2022. Its iconic Cybertruck is due July or later this year (2023), but “volume production” won't begin until 2024.
By 2021, Tesla had sold more battery electric vehicles worldwide (21%) than any other EV producer. In October 2021, its market capitalization reached $1 trillion and has now become the world's most valuable automaker. In Q3 of 2022, Tesla produced 68% of all EVs sold in the USA.
Today's best sellers are models 3 and Y. Over a million were sold in 2021; about 1.31 million were delivered in 2022 and 422,875 were delivered in Q1 of 2023.
Tesla does not sell its vehicles like other makers. It has no advertising, no dealers, no car lots, no hassles with MSRP add-ons (like dealer prep), no contrived “discounts,” no bait and switch schemes, and no reams of fine print paperwork. This saves Tesla tons of money by not hiring non-essential personnel and not building retail outlets—money that enables it to avoid greedy and sometimes shady dealers and middlemen.
To buy a Tesla, a customer goes to Tesla.com, picks out the model and options that he wants, downloads the Tesla app and follows its instructions, agrees to the price, and waits for his turn to purchase—from a few weeks to several months (for a Cybertruck or Semi, probably longer). After payment, a Tesla representative delivers his new vehicle.
Today, the demand for Teslas far exceeds the supply, but that deficit is about to be rectified within a decade or less with its new state of the art “gigafactories” in California, Nevada, Texas, New York, China, Germany, and plans for one in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. These establishments are “vertically integrated” with all of the essential parts made and assembled in the same location so any hickups in production can be immediately addressed on the spot with no long delays for responses and deliveries from far away locations. Once finished, these facilities will crank out new Teslas at lower costs and greater savings that will eclipse all other makers.
All of the gigafactories are huge, but they do vary greatly in size—from 1.2 million square feet of work space at Buffalo, New York to 10 million at Austin, Texas.
The original Gigafactory at Sparks, Nevada contains 5.3 million square feet of operational floor space and produces approximately 35 gigawatt-hours of batteries annually.
The biggest factory, Giga Texas, at Austin, is the site of Tesla's corporate headquarters and is one of the largest buildings in the world with more than 10 million square feet of floor space. Construction began in July 2020, and the first complete Model Y rolled out in August, 2021. Deliveries began at an opening party called “Cyber Rodeo” on April 7, 2022. Besides the Model Y already in production, this factory will build the Model 3 and become the primary producer of semis and Cybertrucks. Elon Musk said it will hire as many as 20,000 new employees.
Tesla’s Shanghai factory, built in a single year, is already producing about 450,000 Models 3 and Y annually.
Tesla's new factories are (or soon will be) equipped with massive state of the art aluminum die-casting machines called “giga presses” that weigh 410 to 430 tons each—“the largest high-pressure die casting machines in production as of 2020, with a clamping force of 55,000 to 61,000 kilonewtons (5,600 to 6,200 tf).” A Model Y front or rear single piece casting is made by injecting 180 lbs of molten aluminum into the machine at 22 mph for about 80-90 seconds, producing 40-45 castings per hour.
The most exciting recent developments are Tesla's trucks. A few semis have already been finished at the Nevada factory and sold to PepsiCo in California. Once the Texas gigafactory is completed and running full steam, they will be making deliveries everywhere, and will be especially thrifty in crowded cities like Atlanta, where about every fourth vehicle on the interstates is a semi. During traffic jams, while the diesels idle and waste tons of fuel going nowhere, the EVs consume NONE. In the near future, many will be equipped with Tesla's Full Self Driving (FSD) software, and during the all too frequent jams, the drivers can take brief naps, enjoy snacks, and, yes, text on their phones.
Tesla's latest and most spectacular product is the Cybertruck, a futuristic “cross between a DeLorean and a Stealth Fighter”—a sleek, gleaming, faceted stainless steel jewel with every component designed for superior strength and endurance. It is armored with an “exoskeleton” of “Ultra-Hard 30X Cold-Rolled stainless steel” that is a full 3 mm (1/8”) thick and can withstand the impact of a sledge hammer with barely a dent and even stop a 9 mm round—the same 301 stainless used to make the bodies of SpaceX Starships. Because of its hardness, it cannot be stamped into body parts. Instead, it is laser cut, laser etched, folded in one direction only, and stir-welded together—hence its unique angular appearance. The stainless steel construction also eliminates corrosion and the costly, time-consuming process of painting.
The Cybertruck has adjustable self-leveling air suspension, up to 3,500 pounds of payload capacity, a towing capacity of over 14,000 pounds, 100 cubic feet of lockable storage space, a slide-out tailgate that doubles as a ramp, on-board power and compressed air, comfortable seating for five people, 0-60 mph in as little as 2.9 seconds, up to 500 miles of range per charge, 15 watt “Lazer Blade” headlights that illuminaqte the road up to three km, and a tonneau cover that is strong enough to stand on (like Elon Musk demonstrated to Jay Leno in a YouTube video). Elon has promised an MSRP of under $40,000 for the one motor version, under $50,000 with two motors, and under $70,000 for the three motor deluxe version. Over 1.7 million people have already pre-ordered it.
The Cybertruck does have a drawback. At seven feet wide and about 19 feet long, this beast cannot fit into many garages and parking spaces or easily negotiate narrow trails in the woods.
An utterly fail-safe car is impossible, but Tesla's safety record is impressive. Tesla’s crash about 12 times less often than average. Fatalities are also 12 times fewer. A Tesla safety exclusive is its driving software. Autopilot, which comes standard with every Tesla, keeps it within its lane and adjusts its speed to avoid hitting a car in front. It also includes “Active Crash Avoidance” that enables it to instantly recognize an obstacle and steer and/or slow down as needed—far more quickly than a human's reaction.
Full-Self-Driving is a deluxe extra that can automatically change lanes, recognize and obey signals and stop signs, and can find its way through cities and even on dirt roads. Other companies have been working on similar versions for years, but Tesla has developed it to the point of practical use. It is not yet fully autonomous or officially approved to having nobody in the driver's seat, but it can outperform a human driver with far faster reaction times and greater ability to avoid accidents. And if a self-driving Tesla should crash, Elon has already covered it by buying an insurance company. Call Tesla, and it pays for it, regardless of who was at fault.
The most expensive part of any EV is its battery pack. An 85 kWh version for a Tesla Model S consists of 7104 '18650' lithium-ion cells that are slightly larger than AA flashlight cells—“modified Panasonic NCR18650A 3100 mAh cells with nickel-cobalt-aluminum cathodes.” The cells are made into modules, each containing six groups of 74 cells wired in parallel. The groups are wired in series to complete a module. Sixteen modules are wired in series to complete the 1200 pound battery pack. A titanium plate is placed under it for protection from collisions and/or road hazards.
Repairing and/or replacing EV batteries has been a challenge for both consumers and repair shops. The battery pack is the most expensive part of any EV. An invoice from Tesla stated that a new 75kWh pack for a Tesla Model 3 cost $13,500 for the pack itself, and with added labor costs, $16,550.67 installed. A different quote said $22,500 for an out of warrenty replacement.
Even with anti-collision software, people in other cars do sometimes hit Teslas and damage them, including the battery packs. That makes them problematic when they are used as structural components. Auto manufacturing teardown expert Sandy Munro says a damaged Tesla Model Y has “zero repairability,” and that “A Tesla structural battery pack is going straight to the grinder,” where it may not be properly recycled. Elon could be well advised to simplify battery replacement and repair procedures, possibly by placing the modules into a rigid, sturdy aluminum or stainless steel frame where they can be well protected, but also easily accessed and replaced. Ford and GM are already working to make their batteries fixable.
Another challenge is to minimize the consumption of scarce and expensive cobalt, which comes primarily from the politically unstable DRC (about 85% of the world's deposits). The most efficient batteries available now require both cobalt and nickel for their cathodes. LiFePO4 cells contain neither and cost less, but are a bit less efficient. To provide longer ranges at lower costs, battery technology still needs improvement.
Tesla is very young and has a great deal of growing ahead. Today, it makes vehicles for the upper and upper middle classes. For the masses, Musk plans to build a smaller “Model 2” in his proposed Mexico plant at half the $33,600 cost of a basic Model 3 and retail it for under $25.000.
Besides the richest, Elon Musk must be the world's most ambitious man—SpaceX, Mars colonization, Starlink, Powerwall, and of course, Tesla. Some people have mentioned that he could be a reincarnation of Nikola Tesla.
1. Wikipedia, Tesla Inc.
2: Wikipedia, Tesla Gigafactories.
3. Baker, Steve, Posts on Quora.com, 2017-2023.
4. Singh, Harsimran, If Tesla uses the new 4680 batteries, how much will the model 3 cost, and how much range will it have?, 2022
5. Morales, Jowi, How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Tesla Battery? (And Can You Do It Yourself?), March 25, 2023.