Carl Walton, vice president of production engineering and facilities for Panasonic Energy of North America, tells the Reno Gazette Journal his company plans to add a 14th production line at the Tesla Gigafactory 1 in Nevada. “There’s some construction work that needs to take place over the next couple of months. Then early next year, we’ll be installing new equipment with production starting shortly after that.”
Walton declined to add specifics but did suggest the new line will be used to manufacture higher capacity batteries at lower costs. The new line is expected to add about 10% to the production capacity of the Gigafactory, which is currently making about 35 GWh of batteries annually. “The expansion will increase our staffing by about 100 positions,” Walton said. “We’re excited to continue our investment in the Northern Nevada community and our people here.” At present, more than 7,000 people work at Gigafactory 1.
The Reno Gazette Journal says the expansion represents a doubling down by Panasonic on the Gigafactory following uncertainty about its future plans for the site. A little over a year ago, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Tesla and Panasonic might freeze expansion plans at Gigafactory 1 due to potential risk. Elon Musk called out Panasonic in a tweet last year, blaming its battery partner for Tesla’s reticence to further boost investment at the facility. Musk claimed Panasonic has not been able to ramp up capacity to adequate levels, leading to constraints on Model 3 production.
But now the two companies appear to be more simpatico for one very good reason — demand for the electric cars Tesla manufactures is strong and getting stronger. Walton credits increased electric vehicle adoption for Panasonic’s decision to move forward with its expansion plans. “The EV market throughout the world continues to explode and the demand is there. This is our way of helping our partner to continue supplying electric vehicles to the market.”
In addition to adding a new production line, Panasonic says it will also upgrade its existing facilities at Giga Nevada. Those upgrades are necessary to accommodate Panasonic’s new battery technology. “That work is starting now and we’ve already started to convert current equipment to be able to make those batteries for us,” Walton said. The new battery technology will help Tesla sell cars with more battery capacity at lower cost.
Panasonic says its latest battery improves energy density by 5% and has is 1.4 times more energy density than current iron phosphate batteries. Its goal is to eventually increase the energy density of its batteries by 20%. Range and improved affordability are especially crucial when it comes to competing against traditional gas-powered vehicles, making them essential for boosting EV adoption.
Panasonic’s new technology will also lower battery costs by reducing the amount of cobalt used to manufacture them The company claims its previous battery was already using half the amount of cobalt used by its competitors and its latest technology puts Panasonic one step closer to its goal of producing cobalt-free batteries. Walton declined to say what the cost of the new batteries will be per kilowatt-hour. Perhaps we will learn more about this during the highly anticipated Tesla Battery Day scheduled for September 22.