Tesla’s Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel gave a talk at the University of Nevada in Reno this week, as the company announced a new internship program and an investment of $1 million in the university’s battery research program. Saying that the transition to a truly sustainable world won’t be accomplished in a single generation, Straubel highlighted the steps Tesla is taking to invest in scientific and engineering talent at schools of all levels.
With the Model X launch behind it, Tesla is now ready to move into phase 3 of its Grand Plan, and concentrate on Model 3. “Most of the people inside Tesla are no longer working on the S or X, but are hard at work designing and inventing all the technologies going into the Model 3,” said Straubel.
The Model 3 will represent a true third generation, with little carryover from the Model S and X. “For better or worse, most of model 3 has to be new,” said Straubel. “With the X, we were able to build on a lot of common components with the S, but with the Model 3 we can’t do that. We are inventing a whole new platform for Model 3. It’s a new battery architecture, a new motor technology, a brand-new vehicle structure.”
The Model 3 is to be produced at volumes of “hundreds of thousands per year instead of tens of thousands per year.” Straubel explains that this will require more batteries than are currently produced in the entire world. Hence, the Gigafactory, which is taking shape a few miles down the road from where he was speaking.
When complete, it will be by far the world’s largest battery factory, a vertically integrated facility that takes in raw materials and churns out battery packs – enough to power 500,000 vehicles annually. Economies of scale and new battery chemistries are expected to reduce battery costs by at least 30%.
Construction started a year ago, and the plant will be opened in phases, with the first employees starting work in a few weeks. “We’ll be building this facility out for years and years to come, but our strategy is to do operations in one half even as we continue to expand the other half of the factory,” said Straubel.
The Gigafactory may be taking on a life of its own as its mission expands beyond supplying battery packs for Model 3. Tesla Energy, a new line of stationary energy storage products, has also been added to the mix. Now Straubel is hinting at some other functions, too.
“A lot of people had the misconception that this is going to be some kind of giant labor pool of people assembling cells,” said he. “This is actually going to be a much more diverse work group. We’re building engineering and R&D teams that are going to operate out of this factory. We already have engineering teams working out of this site – out of construction trailers, but they’re working there. And this is going to keep growing. So, we’re hiring production engineers, manufacturing engineers, people that are helping design the control systems and the building itself – the energy systems all the way through materials handlers and human resources.”
The Gigafactory, together with the solar and wind installations that power it, will have “its own ecosystem of people that can run and maintain and support everything that’s going on there. It’s not going to be some satellite facility that’s remotely controlled by some headquarters far away. I think it’s critical to make it successful, that it…needs to feel like a startup in its own right.”