Tesla’s CTO Talks Technology, Lithium Batteries And Upcoming $30,000 EV

AUG 15 2012 BY STAFF 9

JB Straubel, who is chief technology officer for Tesla, recently gave his perspective on the Model S, the technology inside it, as well as the outlook for lithium batteries and the direction his company is heading for an interview with IDG News.

Mr. Straubel starts out with the basics on the Model S, and on the lithium batteries inside; focusing on the fact they are made in Japan, and that Tesla “buys the cells and integrate (those) into a battery pack with cooling and electronics”  in the United States.

As for the lithium battery technology itself, the Tesla CTO sees it constantly improving.

“It’s a pretty exciting thing from a car point of view. Today, we’re just at a tipping point where it’s possible for the first time ever to build an electric vehicle that has a range similar to a gasoline vehicle. This car has 300 miles of range, and the Lithium Ion batteries are getting better [by] maybe 7 or 8 percent every year. A little bit more energy and range, and also the cost is improving. So, it’s a very exciting time, and vehicles we’ll build 10 years from now could have almost potentially twice the range of today, or a battery pack that weighed half as much as the battery packs we have today.”

IDGNS also asks the most common of questions:  What about range anxiety?  Is it a worry among customers and potential customers?

“Certainly, our customers are a little more technically savvy. They are early adopters at some level. Still, 300 miles gives you more freedom and utility than any other EV today, and particularly with this car, we are rolling out a network of what we call superchargers that can refuel the car in about 30 to 45 minutes. That’s something we are pioneering here in California so customers can drive 500, 600, even 1,000 miles a day if they want, stopping only for 20 to 30 minutes in the middle for a quick recharge.”

Tesla Model S Center Touch Screen/Interior

When the interview turns to where the future lies, and Tesla’s roll in that future,  is where it gets interesting.  At least for those of us who can’t afford $60,000-$100,000 worth of pure electric car.

“I think the Model S is really a transition product. The Roadster was really for die-hard fans and people who either loved performance or technology. The Model S is bridging that gap. We see customers with Model S that are much more mainstream.

Tesla’s goal is to advance the boundaries of electric vehicle technology and eventually drive a revolution in the whole industry. So we would love to see every car on the road being electric as soon as possible. We won’t build all of those, but we definitely want to change the mindset and people’s barriers about what they think is possible.

I think Tesla will remain a brand where we focus on performance and fun driving but we are also driving down the price of our vehicles with each successive generation. So the Model S is about half the price of the Roadster and we are already working on our third-generation platform beyond this, which will be much cheaper still, maybe about US$30,000.”

We eagerly anticipate Tesla’s entry level electric vehicle, although Mr. Straubel does not get into any specifics on the car itself, how far it might go, or when exactly it might come out.  Forecasters inside the industry expect to see Tesla’s next offering (internally known as the BlueStar) come to market in late 2015.

The interview with JP also touches on some behind the scenes information about the operating system and software on board the Model S. 

An example of which would be that “all of the applications you might load are totally separate from the propulsion of the car”, and even without all the whiz-bang of software, touch screens and technology inside the car, it still drives “just fine” if everything goes blank.

Check out the accompanying video from IDG on the Model S itself, closing with some comments from JP.  You can also find the rest of interview via PC World here.

Categories: Concepts, Tesla


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9 Comments on "Tesla’s CTO Talks Technology, Lithium Batteries And Upcoming $30,000 EV"

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Would be great to have a $30k tesla but i dont see it. They could build it 3 years from now, there is a couple evs out there at $30k now, but doesnt fit with the brand.

Maybe they mean $30k after the $7,500 credit which would put about where evs were first priced in 2011

Fantastic positive article re: Tesla – THE driving force behind ( in my mind ) all EVs into the future. If Tesla fails – so may the entire domestic EV industry. Sure, that “sweet spot” for today – hybrids and e-assist will still be with us due to pricepoint and the bridge nature of that technology from traditional ICEs. EVs, on the other hand – are very much on a precipice – they could soar or fall horribly to their demise. We know this moment in time is extremely tentative for Tesla Motors and even ever-optimistic Elon Musk has spoken of late in measured tones about Tesla moving forward and achieving profitablility. It’s a make-it-or-break-it time for Tesla and this kind of positive story is what we need right now rather than micro-managing stories about Tesla’s economic state. There is no margin for error in Fremont, California. No fires, mishaps or unmet expectations can happen now for Model S. It’s nearly like watching a nail-biter movie – ANYTHING can happen. Tesla finances are just that precarious. I completely believe a $30-35,000 Tesla EV five-seater is viable. We live in a time where OLED touchscreen/tablet interfaces are interchangeable, and can be… Read more »

This news is rather odd at a time when Tesla seems on the brink of going belly up over difficulties in scaling up their Model S production. First things first – once they get to a point of survivability, then let’s talk about these dream cars.

Assumptions on automotive margins has always been the issue I think.

Not so much the fact that it would be possible to achieve the 25-odd percent they would require to be successful, but can Tesla both sell and build the 5,000 units a quarter to get there?

We touched on this…and Tesla’s statement that they ‘may’ raise capital in the future, but not “in the very immediate future”, when Tesla reported its last quarterly earnings, and some discussion in the comments section if anyone wants to check it out.

The country needs a cheap EV to propel it into the next-generation of EV driving. Right now even at high-income firms (bank and insurance corporate buildings, for example) they have little in the way of charging infrastructure which does not incite the employees to buy an EV. I think EVs will grow once companies start to offer charging-perks and talk-up their use to the employees. I do consulting work and last week started at a big bank’s location in Delaware. I drive down with my Volt – I’m the only plug-in in the parking lot and garages of literally 1500 cars. With a large employee base who could afford EVs, EREVs and so on – they need to have an advocate on the inside pushing outward to bring on the enthusiasm.

The Volts being sold now at 1800+ per month are doing the lion’s share of spreading the word of electric vehicles and developing mind-share. Some day that will change. May take some years, though.

In addition to creating mind-share, those Volts are also adding pressure for that L2 charging infrastructure you’re referring to. The Volt certainly solves the chicken-and-egg problem since they can exist without the EVSEs, but they provide many potential users for that service (provided the cost to the consumer is competitive with gasoline).

EVs with 300 miles of range can do the same thing, since they don’t have the same kind of limitations at EVs with 70-80 miles of range. On that topic, though, I will point out that the base Model S is the one that’s half the price of the Roadster, but with little more than half the range. To get the same range, you need the 85kWh battery, which is nearly the same price again! If this trend continues, does that mean that a $30k Tesla will have half the range of the base Model S? This, by the way, is 80 miles – the same ballpark as the Leaf/Focus EV/Fit EV…all priced in the 30s (after rebate). This is not revolutionary, but rather in line with current offerings.

You’d think companies would at a minimum at least put in a few 110 outlets, and put “alternative fueled vehicles only” by the spots. They can get Green Credits on a few gov’t programs also so it can probably done by them. Have the company electrician install a few outlets in the parking garage, and then all the volts, leafs, ford focus’s and fiskers will start charging with their 110 volt cords. This is sure to generate interest, and as mentioned probably can be done (thru the grants) at no cost to the company, but plenty of good will.

More importantly, Tesla needs to survive so China doesn’t buy them out…


Fabulous car.
Would buy one tomorrow and the devil take the hindmost.
If this project fails it would be tragic.
I can see the shadow of the big car makers and their oil cartel mates hovering above Tesla like buzzards on the roof of an abattoir.
Are we going to have a sequel to “Who Killed the Electric Car?” i.e. “Who Killed Tesla?
Where are the altruistic megabucks Bill Gates’ of this world when we need them?
Surely, the Californian government can create some grant funding to keep them going.
I suppose we can be consoled by the fact the Tesla’s is an outright car purchase programme and not a leasing operation that GM operated and should Tesla belly-up we will still have plenty of Tesla electric cars running around.