Tesla's first vehicle wasn't a ground-up electric car. In fact, the original Tesla Roadster was essentially a gas car converted to electric. As we've said time and time again, this isn't the best way to do it. We've seen many OEMs try and fail. Tesla quickly realized and moved to making a platform designed specifically for EVs.
The Tesla Model S employed a "skateboard" design concept. As you can see from the image above, the chassis looks like a skateboard, and the battery sits within it, below the car. This frees up cabin space and creates a balanced center of gravity. Many other automakers are now using a similar concept for their electric cars.
Based on information revealed at Tesla's Battery Day and confirmed during the company's Q3 2020 earnings call, there may no longer be a Tesla skateboard design in the future. This is because Tesla is planning on putting its new 4680 battery cells inside a structural pack. Basically, the car's frame also serves as its battery pack.
During the recent conference call, Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois specifically asked Elon Musk if Tesla plans to "retire" the skateboard platform. Musk admitted that it will become "obsolete" in the future. However, the process of moving all vehicles to the new structural platform is going to take years. Musk explained (via Teslarati):
“It’s not like existing cars stop having value. It’s just that if you have a structural pack, where the pack is contributing structural value to the car because of like the — sort of like the composite honeycomb effect of share transfer between upper and lower plate, then anything that doesn’t do that is going to have to have duplicate hardware."
“It’s going to weigh more. It’s going to cost more. And then the same goes for the front and rear castings. To be frank, we’re trying to make the car like you’d make a toy. If you had a toy model car, how would — and then it’s got to be real cheap and look great, how would you make that? You’ll cast it."
Musk went on to compare the evolution to that of aircraft. It's a necessary and natural progression. Rockets and planes used to use a separate shell for the fuel tanks, but now it's integrated into the wings.
With many other automakers just now starting to make clean-sheet EVs with skateboard design, will they make the switch like Tesla? It's arguably not likely, at least not for a long time, but anything is possible. What do you think?