I don’t think I have ever been more curious about a Tesla investor day as the one coming up March 1st. There is so much speculation on what we are going to see, and I usually just read what others try to predict and then grab my popcorn and enjoy the live event, but this time I can’t help myself. I have to get this on record, because my head is about to explode.
Simple As A Toy
I will be clear that the new vehicle platform is what I find most interesting. The energy generation, storage, and AI energy arbitrage that Tesla excels in are inevitable, and in contrast, are simple tasks. The new vehicle platform is the real challenge in my opinion, and combined with AI, the real cash cow. At least until the Tesla Bot takes over the world….
Elon Musk has been very clear that the game from now on is scale — massive scale. To accomplish massive production scale of any product, extreme scalability is necessary, which means simplicity is of the essence, not only of the finished product, but every single component it consists of. We have heard it so often from Elon that the best part is no part, but if you actually want a product to exist, you can’t remove all parts — you need at least one part anyway.
The real problem in manufacturing is to figure out which indispensable parts can be combined, hence the toy car analogy Elon has alluded to in the past. This is what I have been pondering lately, and even though I cannot in any way claim to know what I’m talking about, I just have to lay out my thoughts here — as a simple sketch, because in some strange way, it seems plausible. We’ll see.
Keeping the utopian idea of a one-part product in mind, here are my thoughts on these groups of parts:
- The body. I can only imagine the sheer amount of challenges Tesla has been through in making the Cybertruck ready for manufacturing. The concept of an exoskeleton seems simple, but it is such a radical new approach that the manufacturing techniques must have been designed from the ground up. However, Tesla has obviously made it thus far, and the Cybertruck is actually coming to market this year. And what the exoskeleton approach will mean for the Cybertruck and new models in terms of cost savings is anyone’s guess, but I suspect savings will be substantial. I think Tesla just might have decided to have the option of choosing between exoskeleton and a traditional frame and panel body built into this new platform.
- The interior. I think the interior has to be so radically different from anything else we have seen so far. Maybe not at first glance, but modularity will be of the essence if the interior is to accommodate different use cases like, on the one hand, the traditional drivable car with a steering wheel and room for a family, and on the other hand, a robotaxi without steering wheel and pedals and maybe even separate compartments for users not to be in contact with each other for privacy or even health reasons (no mask needed…). I have wondered if the new platform will be fixed to either a 2- or 4-seat configuration, but with the flexible body option described above, and the flexible seat mounts, it might accommodate both! Think cheap 4-door 25 cents per mile robotaxis alongside a segment of luxurious 2-door 50 cents per mile robotaxis, akin to 1st and 2nd class airline choices. Obviously, the manually driven 2-door hot hatch segment has to be represented too (please make that happen, Elon!).
- The chassis. To make the flexibility described above realistic, the traditional wiring has to be obliviated. I think, or rather hope, that Tesla has gone all-in this time and done the same with the chassis as it did with the HVAC system in the Model Y. Like the Octovalve that is laid out as a circuit board to eliminate countless tubes and valves, the whole vehicle communication has to be a circuit-board-like structure, with any component being able to be attached anywhere and seamlessly communicate with the rest of the vehicle (e.g., a seat can be mounted at any position on the floor and power and controls will just work). The same thing goes for door controls, lights, speakers, etc. High voltage could be on the downfacing side since the battery will be attached here, thus keeping things safe. This may sound simple, but it is a monumental task. The benefit of removing most wiring is almost incalculable, and the manufacturing efficiency will go vertical. For this to be possible, the chassis has to be cast in one piece, from the mounts for the front wheels all the way back to the rear wheels. This will require a very large “gigapress,” but Tesla just might have the prowess to pull this off at this point.
- The battery. This platform will be the pinnacle of what 4680 cells were meant for. Their structural properties in combination with a one-piece chassis will be a functional unit that the industry has never seen before. It will take full advantage of the potential weight savings that we were introduced at Battery Day in 2020. Several battery size options can be accommodated by placing dummy cans in the same form factor. I think a light and low-capacity 20–30 kWh battery will be suitable for a city robotaxi, and a high-capacity 50–60 kWh unit will be adequate for the long-range, high-performance variants. Will the battery pack be easily replaceable? I guess it depends on how the one-piece chassis is structured, but I hope it will be possible to continue the one-piece battery unit concept introduced with the Model Y at Giga Texas for easy service in the rare case of malfunction.
- The drivetrain. The drivetrain that was developed for the Model 3 has by now proven its worth. It is incredibly reliable. I have no idea if the motors on the new platform will be the permanent magnet switched reluctance units that are used in the rear of the Model 3 and Y, or if the induction kind used in the front is better for this use case, but I suspect the former is the cheapest to produce at very large scale. I think we will see a smaller version that will be adequate for the smaller form factor, and I don’t think Tesla will bother with different kinds for front and rear. I think there will be options for front-wheel, rear-wheel, and all-wheel drive, and I think the drivetrain units will be exceptionally simple to mount to the chassis. In-wheel motors have crossed my mind, but since the current whole-cradle type units will be extremely long life, and easy to replace and service, I don’t think Tesla will go with the largely unproven in-wheel setup at this time.
Essentially, we are looking at a super simple, light, strong, and versatile 5-component group structure that can carry up to 4 passengers with maximum comfort and safety. The parts themselves should be super reliable, yet easy to repair, replace, and recycle, in order to minimize use of raw materials. But aside from all of that, here’s real the kicker: If this platform is so versatile it can take on any kind of body, it can be licensed — I mean, the whole platform can be licensed. Think: “Intel Inside,” only this time: “Tesla Inside.” This includes the whole suite of operating software, which has always been a very high priority at Tesla, knowing that hardware is worth nothing without top-performing software.
I know, what a crazy idea! Tesla will of course market its own body designs to get the ball rolling, but if transportation as a whole is to be transformed to all-electric along with the rest of the world’s energy systems, others have to play along, fast. In a word: Efficiency! And as a welcome side effect: True global affordability.
Intel has had a good initial run in enabling the rapid expansion of personal computing power, and with its new platform, Tesla may be about to repeat this venture in another industry. But due to the unfortunate impact the century-long fossil fuel experiment has had on the planet so far, time is of the essence. I find it very hard to imagine legacy automakers will reach this kind of a complete transformation in manufacturing vehicles any time soon. So, I wonder, if Tesla does this, what choice will legacy automakers have? Remember, all other EV manufacturers are presenting vehicles today that are comparable to the platform Tesla started the Model 3 production with (it did not even have gigacasting parts in it).
We have heard for a very long time that the competition is coming for Tesla, and I actually believe that legacy automakers had the right intentions and themselves believed they could just ramp up production of cheap and reliable EVs when it was time to do so. That time has come, and it seems the old brands have had an uncomfortable epiphany about the actual challenges this paradigm shift presents. Some are apparently still in denial, but others are very candid about the gruesome reality (shoutout to Jim Farley for being so honest about the challenge Ford faces at this point).
I don’t think Tesla fears any competition other than that of the concept of unsustainability, because that one word means that everybody will be out of business eventually. With humanity on Earth in mind, Elon’s Master Plan Part 3 is an attempt to ensure sustainability. I think that’s it. Simple really, yet so hard.
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