Breaking news reveal details of a secret Tesla project that may have massive implications; the Tesla ”Roadrunner” project. Specifically, this program aims to achieve a $100 kWh battery cell. Moreover, it looks to bring Tesla’s battery cell production in-house and enable rapid mass production.
Tesla Roadrunner project could enable $100 per kWh at the pack level
The Tesla Roadrunner project supposedly seeks to mass-produce new battery cell technology en masse. What’s more, Tesla is supposedly looking to do it extremely cost-effectively – breaking the $100 per kWh battery price barrier.
Observers sometimes call $100 per kWh the ”holy grail” of electrical vehicle production. This is due to the fact that crossing it allows electric vehicles to reach price parity with ICE vehicles. Moreover, the substantial cost savings of electric vehicles could actually make EVs cheaper than ICEs at $100 per kWh.
Tesla has been on the path towards $100 per kWh for a long time. Back in 2018, Tesla’s Chief Technical Officer at the time, J.B. Straubel, said that Tesla was close to reaching $100 per kWh at the cell level. Moreover, he said he thought Tesla could also reach $100 per kWh at the pack level in roughly two years. This could allow for Tesla’s upcoming projects – the Tesla Semi, Tesla Roadster, and most notably the Tesla Cybertruck.
News about the Tesla Roadrunner project make it seem $100 at the pack level may now finally become a reality. Furthermore, this is something that Tesla has seemingly been planning for a long time. The Fremont firm’s acquisition of Maxwell, a super capacitor manufacturer, in 2019 was one important piece of the puzzle.
Project Roadrunner will mass-produce a new cheap, energy-dense battery cell
According to sources speaking to Electrek, Tesla’s Roadrunner project aims to realize mass-production of a new battery cell. In comparison with the battery cells Tesla currently uses, these new cells will be both more energy-dense and cheaper.
Additionally, the cells are said to stem from technology from Tesla’s internal teams. For example, this supposedly includes Tesla’s Canadian research lab under Jeff Dahn, as well as technologies from Maxwell.
Although the exact specifics of this new battery cell are still unknown, Maxwell’s dry electrode technology could be a good bet. This would allow Tesla to produce cheaper battery cells, while giving them higher energy density.
Tesla’s new battery cells will make it to vehicles first
Tesla is said to be confident that it can produce these new ”Project Roadrunner” battery cells at scale. It would appear that the battery cells will first make their way to Tesla’s vehicles, before the technology trickles down to Tesla’s stationary energy storage offerings.
What’s more, Tesla is already testing prototype cells for this secret Roadrunner project. Recent reports suggest that Tesla is running a pilot production in its Fremont plant since some months back.
”Building the machine that builds the machine”
This production is more or less common knowledge, after some Tesla job listings on LinkedIn. For example, these reference ”reinventing” Li-Ion battery cell manufacturing technology, and the ”next generation” of battery cell technology.
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As such, it appears that Tesla’s Roadrunner project will focus as much on manufacturing the cells as their underlying chemistry. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, famously argues the most important manufacturing challenge is to create ”the machine that builds the machine”. It would seem Tesla is now looking to apply this philosophy to battery cell production.
Tesla is going to hold a ”Battery and Powertrain Investor Day” during the coming months. Furthermore, Musk is teasing an upcoming event at Giga New York in April, which could well be this Battery Day. If so, it will likely shed more light on Tesla’s battery plans and Project Roadrunner.
TSLA Times’ take:
This news cannot be overstated. If these reports are accurate, Tesla will irreversibly change the rules of the EV game. We’ve known for quite some time that Tesla is working on developing proprietary battery cell technology and production. Nevertheless, we did not know that Tesla was looking to ramp its own battery production as aggressively as ”Project Roadrunner” suggests.
As such, Tesla could eliminate the middleman in battery production, completely control production and be able to scale at will. This would massively reduce costs, as well as give Tesla other synergy benefits – such as being able to draw up more accurate plans for new vehicles and battery cell production simultaneously.
An apt comparison could be Apple, which is able to time its iPhone and iPad launches more precisely due to designing the most important components (A-series chips) in-house. Furthermore, the cost-reduction would be massive, seeing as just the upcoming Tesla Cybertruck has 550,000 reservations – which will require a lot of batteries.
Increasing vertical integration is something Tesla is very serious about, and it shows. The company’s custom-made HW3 ”Full Self-Driving” computer is another great example of this. A recent teardown of the Tesla Model 3 reveals that legacy automakers are 6 years behind Tesla, specifically when it comes to the electronic control unit (HW3 computer). Moreover, the same teardown also states that legacy automakers couldn’t catch up even if they wanted to.
Game, set, match
It is quite clear that Tesla already values the massive importance of batteries when it comes to electric vehicles. This was the driving force behind Tesla’s decision to begin construction on the original Gigafactory (now known as Giga Nevada). Legacy automakers, such as VW, Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes are all currently struggling with their EV production due to battery shortages.
At the moment, Tesla is already the automaker with the singularly most robust plan for battery production and supply. If Tesla also brings battery cell production completely in-house and deploys it at scale, it’s game, set and match.
Tesla’s Roadrunner project appears to reference the well-known Looney Tunes characters ”Wile E. Coyote” and ”the Road Runner”. The running gag of the cartoon series is that although the Coyote tries to catch and eat the Road Runner, the Road Runner is always a step ahead and simply too fast to be caught by the Coyote.
It’s not hard to see where Tesla got their inspiration for the project name from. Rather, it seems given that ”Project Roadrunner” intends to keep Tesla as ”the Road Runner” – always one step ahead of the legacy automakers, or ”the Coyote”, who are now finally embracing EVs.