To Cut Costs, Tesla Gen 3 Won’t Be All Aluminum Like Model S

JUL 1 2014 BY ERIC LOVEDAY 42

Model S

Model S

Chris Porritt, Tesla’s vice-president of engineering, told Autocar that Tesla Gen 3 will be “realistically” priced to compete against German sedans of similar size (BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, for example), but in getting to that realistic price point, some sacrifices will be made.

Porritt says that Gen 3 will use “appropriate materials” to keep its price in check, meaning that expensive aluminum may be mostly out the door:

“I expect there will be very little carry-over. We’ve got to be cost-effective. We can’t use aluminum for all the components.”

Autocar suggests that Gen 3 will turn mostly to steel in its construction, though we are doubtful that Tesla will take this approach.  It’s our belief that the frame/platform/skateboard will be all aluminum, as it is in the Model S.  What Porritt is implying is that body panels, suspension components (control arms) etc. won’t be aluminum.  This makes perfect sense to us and reinforces what Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated on several occasions in regards to the robustness of the Model S’ aluminum frame.  We don’t see Musk allowing Tesla to stray from aluminum for the Gen 3’s platform.  Elsewhere, steel may be utilized, but aluminum will certainly be employed where it matters most.

Porritt adds that right now, the biggest cost factor for Gen 3 is batteries.  If Tesla can’t get cells prices down, then the entire engineering of process of Gen 3 might have to start from scratch.  Porritt says price of batteries was the key calculation in engineering Gen 3.  So, we think Tesla has a cell price in mind for Gen 3 and if that price doesn’t become reality, then it’s back to the drawing board for Tesla.

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42 Comments on "To Cut Costs, Tesla Gen 3 Won’t Be All Aluminum Like Model S"

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I’m guessing all of the aluminum castings would remain.

Mark H

Me too. What I am hoping for is to hold the price. If it is reasonable, I certainly will get over the loss of aluminum. Musk wants to produce a mass marketed EV but he, like any CEO, will accept the market demand. I also think he will reward the early buyers the way he did the Model S. You know they will offer a waiting list as before. Any guess to how large the list might go? I don’t think 100,000 is out of the question.

I think 100K is reasonable. Especially since Tesla is becoming more of a household name. It seems like people that know nothing at all about the plug-in market, have heard of Tesla. Must be all that good press / bad press / twittering.

I believe the Gen 3 will be one of the most successful new car introductions of all time. I would not be at all surprised if the entire first year production was sold out on advance registrations.

That will be the turning point, as major automotive shareholders demand a competitive response.

David Murray

I was under the impression aluminum was cheaper than steel. I thought the problem wasn’t the material cost but the process of welding it.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

IIRC the cost per ton for aluminum runs about 2-3x that of steel.

Perhaps they can go with fiberglass for fenders/body panels with steel or aluminum crash reinforcement?

Taser54

Aluminum is cheaper per pound, but many times you have to use more to reach the equivalent chassis strength than with high strength steel.

There’s a great deal to consider in producing a low cost EV, Tesla will have to make some compromises, compromises which weren’t necessary in the Model S because of the price point.

jkw

Aluminum is stronger per pound than steel. It is an expensive metal, because it takes a lot of energy to refine it and it can be harder to work with than steel. It costs about 5 times as much as steel per ton, based on the current London futures prices. But it is only about 1.5-2 times as strong as steel per unit of weight. It also has a lower density, so for the same strength, aluminum parts are larger.

Taser54

I agree about your cost point (coffee hasn’t taken full effect for me). The strength argument depends on the alloy. High strength steel is 6 times as strong as conventional steel. Many carmakers are switching to it as a cost effective alternative to aluminum. I imagine that Tesla will strongly consider it.

Ted Fredrick

Stiffness is also as important as strength in a modern auto. Aluminum is 1/3 the stiffness as steel.

pjwood

I believe the relevant measure is strength to weight. Aluminum suspension components are far lighter, when spec’d for the job. I see Tesla in conflict, to reach its AER target while attempting to substitute steel for aluminum.

RussB

Not true. Aluminum is most advantageous in parts like closures.

ggpa

“Aluminum is cheaper per pound” Wrong

Al is 2 or 3 times the price of steel. Usually an equivalent Al part is somewhat lighter than the steel one, but still more expensive.

I don’t know what Tesla does, but Ford uses rivets & adhesive to assemble their aluminum body panels.

I know pouring aluminum castings is easier than iron due to the temps mainly. Also easier to finish the casting because they are softer. Not sure what the net cost difference would be though.

Boris

What struck me in the article is not so much the aluminum vs. steel issue (because that’s kind of obvious and Elon has spoken about that already), rather the VP of engineering being kind of stressed out about the costs of batteries…

Kosh

Didn’t realize they use alum like that.

Has anyone got numbers on total embodied energy needed to manufacture a Tesla (compared to regular cars)?

“So, we think Tesla has a cell price in mind for Gen 3 and if that price doesn’t become reality, then it’s back to the drawing board for Tesla.”

Which is why its important to get the GF up and running. Which is why Tesla is making all these risk-averse choices (multiple sites, etc.) when it comes to site selection and construction.

pjwood

A 7k-10k battery was about the target, I thought. That’s some 50kwh @$135/kwh. Number play almost binds Tesla to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Anyone care to take a stab at what an engine costs Audi? Half?

I see expensive options in the Model E owner’s future.

Ocean Railroader

I don’t think Aluminum would be a issue for Tesla considering Ford is phasing out steel for Aluminum in their 2015 model year trucks. The Ford F-150 Truck which is the most popular truck on the road in terms of sales. So with Ford doing this it should pave the way for Aluminum to make it’s way for Tesla.

Me personally I think it’s the batteries in that though out Tesla’s existence it’s always been the batteries holding up it’s production.

Mark C

Did anyone actually to expect Tesla to make a 7/8 scale Model S and sell it for half the price?

Who cares if the car isn’t aluminum bodied. As long as they stick to the philosophy of the safest car out there, I’m not concerned over what materials are used in its manufacture. I sit on the edge of my seat waiting to get in line for a Tesla mass market sedan.

qwerty

With the statement….
““realistically” priced to compete against German sedans of similar size (BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, for example)””

The original philosophy and goal just might be a big miss for them. They already missed one mark of what was to be a “200 mile range Affordable EV”.

mike w

Well yes I would expect to see a car 7/8 the size at almost half the price. A lot of “High end options” High tech. door handles, auto rain sensing windshield wipers, 17 inch touch screen can be replaced with lower cost conventional door handles, manual wiper blade controls and 7 inch touch screen nav/radio like other cars. Steel wheels, cheaper (smaller tires) and a 48 KWH battery should get you close to $35K. I would expect options to cost more.

ffbj

Well that’s just the point in that having aluminum crumple zones makes the car safer. So materials do matter, oddly coinciding with the very point you make, that seems most important: safety.

Lad

Hah! Speculation! Lot of fun guessing what Musk will do with this car. My guess is thin high strength steel for the body panels around an aluminum space frame and hopefully with a new battery chemistry that is not volatile and lighter so the casing can be much lighter. There is cost efficiency to be gained also by making the motor, controller, charger and differential in one FWD boltin unit as Nissan does in the Leaf. how about cameras instead of rear view side mirrors?

Alonso Perez

I don’t think using less aluminum implies they will replace with steel. I would expect more plastic in parts like fenders and other non-structural components.

They can’t load up on steel because it would reduce range and performance.

Priusmaniac

They could also use Aluminum more wisely in a number of parts where plain Aluminum can be replaced by Aluminum foam. It is not only lighter but also reduces the total mass used on the car.
By the way a Tesla is at most 1000 Kg of Aluminum since the battery is 600 Kg and the motor, controller, seats, windows, tires make the rest of the overall mass.
Aluminum is also increasing the durability of the car hence its value, so dropping Aluminum for rusting steal would jeopardize that value.
As for what autonomy is concerned 200 miles is still not enough to replace a standard car. It should be 400 miles. So Aluminum is required if not CFRP. Else you need a Rex to achieve 400 miles at an acceptable cost.

Fabian

Has anyone done the feature breakdown of the Model S to see what can be removed/changed to get a Tesla Gen III car down to a 35k level?

I would guess things like the moon roof, adjustable ride height, expensive wheels, leather, center display, and LCD Speedo could go a long way to getting the price down, no?

Fabian,

I took a stab at predicting what would be needed to hit a $35k starting price on Gen III. You can read it here: http://insideevs.com/what-would-it-take-to-make-tesla-model-e-desirable-and-profitable/

All of those items are already extra cost options.

except for the displays and 19″ alloy wheels. 21″ wheels are a $2,500 upgrade.

qwerty

“Tesla Gen 3 will be “realistically” priced to compete against German sedans of similar size (BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, for example)”

That IS NOT an *Affordable* car for the masses!!!

Base BMW 3 is a little over $32K.

JakeY

You are forgetting the tax credit. The Leaf started at $30k and it was the “affordable” EV choice.

The Gen 3 was always slated to be in the $30k-$40k range, even under the most optimistic estimates.

Jouni Valkonen

At this point of development we are perfectly happy if it is affordable for the richest 5 %. Because anyway Tesla cannot expect to ramp up their production into 100 million cars per year.

If the middle class wants to buy third gen Tesla, they can buy it as second hand car when it is four years old. It is difficult to estimate what will be the depreciation curve of EV with battery replacement program, but it is probable that electric vehicles has at least 20 years lifespan with good maintaining of value.

Mikael

The average new car price in the US is $32k. The average new car price in Germany is $36k.

A $30-40k Tesla not for the masses? I beg to differ.
Especially when you take the total cost of ownership and include the fuel price and less maintenance.
Then the comparable price could be around $40k.

With half the battery size + 30% cost reduction + 20% lesser size of the car + production to scale + the negotiating power to materials and parts because of the production to scale = A Tesla for less than $40k.

Frank

32 k less gas IS affordable

Marshal G

Time for the worlds biggest aluminum factory?

Jouni Valkonen

More probable is, that Tesla is planning a gigafactory for carbon fiber production. And that gigafactory is of course powered by 100 % solar power, to mitigate the high carbon footprint of carbon fiber.

Jouni Valkonen

no-one mentioned that it is probable that Tesla is planning to have carbon fiber added to third gen car. BMW has advanced the mass production of carbon fiber a lot and therefore Tesla has been in discussions with BMW for sharing the technology.

There is not significant cost disadvantage with aluminium over steel. And if there is any, then the better fuel economy will compensate.

Also steel is not relevant material with electric vehicle because it rusts. With battery replacements, electric cars can be on roads 20 years or more. This is very important especially in developing world.

RussB

Making the Tesla out of CFRP is self-defeating:
It is even more expensive than aluminium.
The additional production energy (and therefore CO2 emissions) would outweigh any possible driving energy savings you would get. For a BEV, because it is already very efficient and because it uses regenerative braking, there is not much benefit to lightweighting.
There is certainly a significant cost disadvantage with aluminium. It must add at least $2000 to the price of a Model S. And again, you don’t get much fuel economy savings (especially when you are paying so little for your fuel). The difference it makes is in range. So you pay for range with money and CO2.

Jouni Valkonen

Actually, electric car electricity is quite expensive as EV batteries has limited cycle life. Therefore we can estimate that using EV power, it costs about 300–400 dollars per MWh. If we have e.g. 5 % advantage in fuel economy, this easily translates to 20 dollar savings per MWh. If one drives 30 000 miles per year, this 200 dollar cost savings per year and 4000 dollar cost savings over 20 year lifespan of car.

In addition to that there is required smaller battery for lighter car.

Carbon fiber is no longer that expensive due to BMW’s advances in mass production technology. Also BMW uses 100 % renewable electricity for producing carbon fiber and therefore it has zero carbon foot print.

And if Tesla aims for carbon fiber, it can have inhouse production of carbon fiber, where as the production of steel and aluminium are outsourced. Also it goes without saying that if Tesla is opening its own carbon fiber plant, it will utilize 100 % solar power in production. Therefore carbon foot print will be zero.

RussB
You get closer to 3% savings on average. 30,000 miles per year is at least 3 times the expected yearly mileage for a BEV. You are of course correct that you can (for a given range) use a smaller battery in a lighter car, but, if you use something so energy intensive as CFRP, you do not ever recover the added energy. CFRP is still prohibitively expensive. We should be clear that BMW’s use of CFRP is a marketing decision. They could have achieved essentially the same performance with steel and/or aluminium, at lower cost and lower environmental impact. The renewable energy that the Moses Lake plant uses comes from a pre-existing source. This means that the other people on the grid that were using those electrons now have to buy their electrons from another source, so the net effect is that the energy used to make the CF has the environmental impact of the grid, not zero. It certainly does not go without saying that Tesla can make all of its own CF, or that, if it does, the plant will be 100% solar powered. It is just not that simple. Even if it was that simple, why not… Read more »