In the past Tesla CEO Elon Musk has put the need for battery breakthroughs in the 'not really necessary' category, saying that the company is content with the more slight, year-over-year improvements being made with the batteries currently being manufactured by Panasonic, and also soon to be produced at Tesla's gigafactory.

However, last year Tesla reached out to Jeff Dahn, a leading battery researcher (and industry superstar), to have him come on board to work with the company and expand its battery horizons.  That contract secured, a 5 year exclusive deal, begins on June 8th, 2016.

IDS Concept/Next Generation LEAF-based NMC battery: putting 60 kWh in almost the same space as the original 24 kWh/2011 edition for less money

IDS Concept/Next Generation LEAF-based NMC battery: putting 60 kWh in almost the same space as the original 24 kWh/2011 edition for less money

As reported by Quartz on Mr. Dahn's background:

"Dahn is known for publicly calling out the shortcomings of his colleagues’s inventions, all in the name of honest science, he says, and himself is a pioneer of one of the world’s leading energy chemistries, known by the acronym NMC. Musk, meanwhile, has publicly ridiculed NMC while championing a rival chemistry called NCA."

Dahn's new directive with Tesla?

"Dahn says he is arriving with marching orders to do “whatever it takes” to improve the company’s battery performance."

The hiring of the battery researcher from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, and away from long term partner 3M (before this hiring), may signal that Tesla (and its CEO Musk) are now willing to have a more open mind to new breakthroughs and alternative advances in battery technology over just going with an "off the shelf" solutions  - such as installing thousands of Panasonic 18650 cells into the Model S/X, or slightly larger cylindricals into the upcoming Model 3.

Nissan's new high density module stack - Perhaps 288 large format/NMC chemistry cells inside a 60 kWh pack is a better option than housing 6,216 Panasonic 18650s inside a Model S 60 after all?

Nissan's new high density module stack - Perhaps 288 large format/NMC chemistry cells inside a 60 kWh pack is a better option than housing 6,216 Panasonic 18650s inside a Model S 60 after all?

It should be noted that NMC battery chemistry (in larger, automotive format) is about to be brought to the center stage in a few months by Nissan with its second generation LEAF debut, and also with the arrival of Chevrolet Bolt EV to an extent.

Dahn states that Tesla's goal is the same as the rest of the industry - to achieve long lasting, high energy density cells at a low cost.

“Those are the goals, and that’s how we’re going to do it,” Dahn said to Quartz, “We’re open to anything that makes sense.”

Or it might just mean that Musk is hedging his bets against Tesla's competitors; just in case one of the latest (and mostly theoretical) 'breakthroughs' we hear about almost daily becomes commercially viable -  Mr. Dahn would be just the man to point out that sort of reality...or be able to achieve one himself.

Quartz, hat tip to George K, Josh B!