Tesla’s battery day is here after months of tweets and teasers from the company’s CEO Elon Musk. And while the battery day portion will certainly provide plenty of news and insights into Tesla, there is another company-related activity that promises the same.
The Tesla event, which begins at 1:30 p.m. PT September 22, kicks off with its annual shareholder meeting followed by the battery day activities. That’s today. Readers can watch the live stream here.
Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting — like its earnings call — tends to be packed with announcements and updates and general ruminating and forecasting from Musk. Expect questions and hopefully answers about Tesla’s various construction projects around the world, including new factories in Austin, Texas and Berlin, as well as the expansion in Shanghai.
Whether Musk provides an update on the Roadster and Tesla Semi is unclear. However, at least one tweet from Musk hints that the two products will come up during the Battery Day section of activities today. Musk noted that what is revealed today during Battery Day will affect long-term production, especially its Class 8 truck, the Tesla Semi, as well as its Roadster sports car and Cybertruck. “What we announce will not reach serious high-volume production until 2022,” he wrote.
What many in the industry expect Tesla to announce is that it’s manufacturing its own battery cells, likely setting up production within the confines of its new factories as it continues to vertically integrate.
Tesla’s $218 million acquisition of Maxwell Technologies in 2018 triggered speculation that the company was interested in developing and even manufacturing its own battery cells. Actions taken by the company in the past two years seem to support this. However, Tesla’s interest in developing better batteries was piqued long before it acquired Maxwell. In 2015, Tesla signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Jeff Dahn, a leading lithium-ion battery researcher and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. The exclusive partnership with Tesla began in June 2016, after Dahn completed a project funded by 3M and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to develop longer-lasting, lower-cost lithium-ion battery cells.
Expect the fruits of that partnership — which has produced a steady stream of patent applications — to be described in more detail today.
Panasonic is Tesla’s primary battery cell supplier. The company has a joint venture with Tesla, manufacturing cells at the so-called Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. The initial plan was for the Gigafactory to produce 35 gigawatt hours of battery capacity, a goal it has reached. Now, Panasonic is adding another production line, an expansion that will increase battery cell capacity by 10%.
The Gigafactory has been the centerpiece of Tesla’s plan to expand global battery capacity and reduce the cost of electric vehicles. Panasonic has been its most important partner in that project, which, based on a recent agreement, should last until at least 2023.
That doesn’t mean Tesla hasn’t been dedicated to developing its own battery technology. Musk tweeted Monday that the company intends “to increase, not reduce battery cell purchases from Panasonic, LG & CATL (possibly other partners too). However, even with our cell suppliers going at maximum speed, we still foresee significant shortages in 2022 and beyond unless we also take action ourselves.”
And there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that the company has been working in earnest on its own batteries. In August 2019, Tesla received a permit from the Bay Area Air Quality District to operate a pilot battery manufacturing line at a facility in Fremont, California, near its vehicle assembly factory. The facility on Kato Road also had an application for what appears to be a more permanent permit, but it remains incomplete for data, which means the company never submitted all the necessary data for regulators to review. However, the air quality district has since issued two new permits, one for cathode coating and another simply described as “trade secret,” for the same Kato facility that has been tied to Tesla’s battery development in the past.