Tesla's focus on batteries is being proven right, and other EV makers are paying the price

(Credit: Tesla)

As more and more automakers begin the transition to electric vehicles, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Tesla’s intense focus on batteries was right all along. Tesla’s strategies have always been criticized and examined under a microscope, and the company’s decision to build Giga Nevada, a facility dedicated to battery production for the Model 3, was no exception. But as veteran automakers like Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz are now finding out, investing tons of effort and resources on batteries matters a lot.

Tesla is among the industry’s most vertically-integrated companies. Similar to Apple’s consumer electronics and SpaceX’s rockets, most of what goes inside a Tesla electric car is designed and built in-house. Tesla is so serious about this; the company actually made its own seats. The same is true for the electronics that goes inside every Tesla. They are so different and superior to off-the-shelf components that teardown expert Sandy Munro compared them to the electronics of a literal fighter jet

Tesla’s 2170 battery cells. (Credit: Tesla)

A lot of Tesla’s resources are dedicated to its battery improvements. Teslas stand tall among their rivals in the EV marketplace today primarily due to their efficiency and range, and this is made possible by the company’s battery tech. The company is not showing any signs of stopping too. Tesla has acquired several companies that could further improve its batteries, such as Maxwell Technologies and Hibar Systems. The electric car maker is even looking to produce its own batteries, with reports indicating that work is already underway to develop custom cells for Tesla’s next generation of vehicles and products. 

It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but veteran automakers have reached a point where they must honestly admit that when it comes to batteries, Tesla has a notable lead. The very representation for this idea is the Porsche Taycan, an otherwise excellent high-performance electric vehicle whose ~200-mile EPA range is an Achilles Heel. Porsche, similar to other EV makers, opted for off-the-shelf batteries for the Taycan, and it shows. The car performs beautifully, and it’s arguably the only EV that can beat a Model S fair and square in a race, but it simply does not have the range or the efficiency to beat Tesla’s flagship sedan on all metrics.

It’s not just about the battery tech and specific cell chemistries either. Over the years, Tesla also had the foresight to secure ample battery supply for its vehicles and products. From Panasonic, which has been Tesla’s partner since its early days, to CATL, which is the company’s partner for Giga Shanghai, the electric car maker has made careful preparations to ensure that its vehicles and products will always have enough batteries. Other EV makers are not as fortunate. 

The new Mercedes-Benz EQC. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz)

This is one of the reasons why the Jaguar I-PACE, one of the most decorated vehicles in modern auto history, actually stopped production for a week. Just like the Taycan, the I-PACE is actually a pretty decent EV, with its plush interior and aggressive exterior. But behind the I-PACE’s looks lies off-the-shelf batteries that are also used by other companies. This meant that when LG Chem could not supply enough cells for the vehicle, Jaguar had no choice but to stop the vehicle’s production temporarily. 

The Mercedes-Benz EQC is in the same boat. Once deemed as a potential “Tesla Killer,” the EQC’s production target for 2020 was halved by the German automaker from 60,000 vehicles to just 30,000 units. The reason was something that is pretty familiar: Daimler just could not secure enough batteries. Even companies like Dyson and Aston Martin, both of which had plans to make EVs, eventually suspended their efforts to enter the electric car market. 

Tesla is not a perfect company by any means. CEO Elon Musk would be the first to admit that the company has made many mistakes over the years. But for all its delays and production issues, there is very little that can be criticized about Tesla when it comes to its batteries and the company’s foresight in improving them and securing their supply for years to come.

Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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