As if Tesla hasn't already shaken up the automotive industry enough, the electric automaker's new strides in flex circuit tech could change how EVs are built and potentially impact suppliers.
Suppliers of wiring and electrical components like Lear Corporation are seeing increased business opportunities as more EVs hit the market. Electric cars use an immense amount of wiring to connect all of the electrical components. The Tesla Model S and X both require about three kilometers of total wire.
Tesla is moving forward with new flex circuit technology, which will allow for less wiring in its vehicles. The Tesla Model 3 already uses half as much wiring as the Model S and X, and CEO Elon Musk has shared that the Model Y will have 95 percent less wiring than the Model 3, at only 100 meters.
In 2013, Tesla patented certain flex circuit tech for connecting its batteries to other components. This is an example of Tesla's push to separate itself from other automakers, and make every attempt to keep everything "in-house". The flex circuits can reduce the amount of wires needed because each circuit can be adapted into different shapes and configurations. The company's goal is to add more and more flex circuits throughout each vehicle's build.
As Tesla adds more of this flex circuitry to its vehicles, the need for wires and other electrical components will obviously diminish exponentially. However, Lear Corporation doesn't seem to be too concerned. In response to Chris McNally's (Evercore ISI analyst) question about flex circuits' potential to impact the company's business, Frank Orsini from Lear responded (via Teslarati):
“The flex circuits and different types of applications in the vehicle is nothing new to Lear even. We’ve actually used flex circuits in the past. We have the technology in our product portfolio. It is more expensive technology than traditional applications of wire. What we do well in the industry is we optimize the architecture … We don’t see the usage of wire shrinking. Wires are very secured way of connecting the signaling and data communication in the vehicle.”
Regardless of analysts' forecasts, and the assumptions of suppliers, time will tell if flex circuits are the answer, and how it impacts the EV segment as a whole. If the tech works well and is affordable, other companies will likely follow suit. However, there is surely future potential for companies like Lear to be involved in making flex circuits available for other automakers, aside from Tesla.
This is just another way that Tesla is building an advantage in the market. It's really no different than the current situation surrounding EV batteries. Tesla makes its own battery packs in partnership with Panasonic, while other automakers need to outsource, and are facing a possible shortage.