Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared in an episode of the Third Row Tesla podcast that went live this week that the company is moving away from the concept of battery modules in future pack designs.
The comment came about as the group talked about the battery in the original Tesla Roadster and how, due to the number of problems with battery packs they were having, they built the batteries to be modular. “The reason there were cells, modules, and packs goes back to the original Roadster days,” Elon said. “The original reason why the Roadster pack had like 16 blades or modules was that if one of them didn’t work, you could pull it out and put another one in.” The design choice allowed them to swap out a failed battery module to replace it with a new one in the event of a problem.
The concept of modules carried through to the Model S, which also leverages a battery pack comprised of a bundling of a dozen or so battery modules that were similar in shape and size, with the number of modules per pack varying slightly depending on the capacity of the battery. In addition, the Model S and X were designed to have a rapidly swappable battery pack, an idea that was later scrapped. Regardless, every Model S and X built even today is capable of swapping its battery pack, even though no stations exist to perform the task.
The early design choice to build battery cells into modules resulted in dedicated teams within Tesla to design the battery modules themselves even today. This organizational decision resulted in battery modules showing up yet again in the Tesla Model 3, even though splitting the battery pack up into modules no longer served an actual function. “The modules in the Model 3 are not actually interchangeable, so there’s no point in having modules really, we should just have a pack.” It’s a remnant from times long past that Elon is now working to correct.
According to Musk, he is now considering rolling the people assigned to battery module teams within Tesla into the pack team to help remedy the situation. “You don’t really need modules in my view. Just take cells and put them in a pack.”
Tesla is more innovative and dynamic that any other automaker operating at scale, but this tale of the history of battery modules at Tesla makes it clear that even Tesla struggles with maintaining a perfectly streamlined organization and avoiding inefficient corporate inertia. Imperfections in the organization translate directly into the product, as was the case with battery modules. Fortunately, Tesla has already identified this as an opportunity to streamline the product and increase the company’s efficiency.