Tesla CEO Elon Musk disclosed some details about the electric automaker’s 4680 cell plant last week. After stating that the facility is “probably in the top 10 battery cell factories on Earth despite being a pilot plant,” speculation began about how massive Tesla’s new facility that sits just across the street from the Fremont production facility is. Although it is in the top 10, it’s not even close to finished.
Tesla’s introduction of the 4680 battery cell came in September 2020 at the Battery Day event. Musk and others outlined the company’s roadmap for global EV dominance through the most important part of an electric car: the cell. The new cell has 500% more energy, six times the power of the old 2170 cells, and also offers dramatic range increases for more drive time between charges. It was truly revolutionary because Tesla is already the most notable company in electric cars.
With a considerable lead in the EV sector, Tesla was effectively announcing, “eat our (sustainable) dust” after showing the new 4680 cells. Some were skeptical, believing that the new cell wouldn’t be available for some time. Musk immediately silenced those doubts, indicating that the new cells had been deployed in working vehicles for months.
The point is, the Kato Road facility, as it is widely known as, is one of the largest facilities in the world. While we are not sure what the current capacity is, if it is a top 10 facility in terms of capacity, we can speculate how big it may be.
According to Argus Media, the 10 largest battery cell plants range from 24 GWh per year to 70 GWh per year. The largest, an LG Chem facility in Wroclaw, Poland, has the 70 GWh capacity, leading BYD’s Qinghai, China plant by 10 GWh. Tesla and Panasonic’s joint venture at Gigafactory 1 in Nevada is a 35 GWh per year facility, making it the fifth-largest plant globally.
Because Tesla’s Kato Road facility is a pilot plant, we can likely assume that it is within the bottom half of this list. Especially with Gigafactory 1 being the fifth-largest, it is very likely that Kato Road is simply not producing as many cells or as much battery capacity as Giga 1, but it’s not to say that this won’t happen. The issue is that Tesla is still battery constrained, even with a large-scale facility in Nevada and with several third-party manufacturers pumping cells to the automaker at a massive rate. Kato Road will contribute to the solution to the constrained problem, and the facility will likely be significantly larger than Giga 1, considering the projects that Tesla plans to fulfill with the 4680 cells, the largest being the Tesla Semi.
The Semi is still not ready for production, Musk said on the Q4 Earnings Call last week. “We will have cells group in ourselves for Semi when we were producing the 4680 volume. But for example, Semi would use typically five times the number of cells that a car would use, but it would not sell for five times what a car would sell for. So it kind of doesn’t make…it would not make sense for us to do the Semi right now,” Musk said. The issue is cell availability, and since the Semi is going to equip Tesla’s newest 4680 project, it is safe to assume that Kato Road still has some expanding to do. If it is already a top 10 facility, yet it is still not ready to take on the massive Semi task, along with all of the other vehicles it will eventually fulfill, Kato Road may become a top 3 facility.
Ultimately, Tesla requires more cells. With no plans to eliminate purchases from third-party suppliers in the near-term, Tesla wants to increase purchases from those suppliers. CATL, Panasonic, and LG Chem could supply Tesla with more batteries moving forward, even with the Kato Road facility’s expansion and ramping up. The fact is, Tesla isn’t done solving the battery constraint issue, and it could battle with it for years to come. However, it won’t stop production from increasing because more cells are becoming available almost every day through supplier deals, increased outputs, and in-house manufacturing advancements, all of which make Tesla the company to beat for the foreseeable future.