Tesla’s Semi is coming, and it will be here sooner than expected. But the production of the vehicle could be pointing to one thing: Tesla is no longer battery constrained.
Past the face value portion of the story, something much bigger is happening. While the Semi entering a “volume production” phase is big news, the development of the commercial vehicle comes at a time where battery production for Tesla seems to be the main focus of the electric automaker.
In Q3 2019, CEO Elon Musk indicated that a shortage of battery cells primarily drove the Semi’s delay. If Tesla wanted to start producing the Semi, the company would have to make cells available for it. That would mean one thing: cutting back on cells utilized for Tesla’s mass-market vehicles, which at the time was the Model 3.
Building the Semi before a sufficient battery production and supply chain was established would have been detrimental to the company’s long-term plans. Of course, the Model 3 has been Tesla’s most popular vehicle since it started deliveries in 2017. Its affordability has helped Tesla reach a new market, which was all apart of Elon’s original Master Plan.
With the Model Y now being produced in Fremont, Tesla now has two mass-market vehicles that are affordable by a vast segment of the population. Ultimately, this means that Tesla needed to levy a majority of its available lithium-ion cells for the Model 3 and Model Y. Unfortunately, the Semi just was not a priority over those two cars. Why would it be? The Model 3 (and Model Y now) are Tesla’s two top sellers. Therefore, the battery needs pointed toward the 3 and the Y, with Semi production being dependent on the availability of battery cells.
If we think about Musk’s statement from Q3, he indicated that the Semi production would be based on when Tesla could manufacture the appropriate amount of lithium-ion batteries to power the Class 8 vehicle. Although demand for the 3 and the Y continues to increase, so is Tesla’s production rate, and it could be indicative that the Silicon Valley-based electric car maker is pumping out enough batteries to produce all of its vehicles without any worries of possible cell shortages.
Ultimately, this idea could lead to another significant development in the EV world as a whole, and that is price parity.
For a long time, analysts have pinpointed the electric vehicle movement’s price parity at $100/kWh for battery cell production. This means that when cells are produced at a high enough rate, batteries will be lower in cost. Then, electric cars will be the same price as gas-powered machines, making the argument of “EVs are too expensive” obsolete.
The Tesla Model 3 Performance utilizes a 75 kWh battery pack. If battery production is at $120/kWh, this would mean that the Model 3 Performance’s battery pack costs $9,000 to produce. The car’s $54,990 price tag, hypothetically at $120 per kWh, is made up of a battery pack that costs about $9,000.
If Tesla could produce batteries at a high enough rate where the cost per kWh could come down to $100, the battery pack would only cost $7,500 to build, meaning an additional $1,500 comes off the price of the vehicle altogether. Tesla’s goal is to produce enough battery cells to justify this pricing point for its cars. Also, $100/kWh is just the price parity point, and not where the cost will ultimately end up. If demand continues to increase and battery cell production keeps growing, the cost could get even lower.
If Tesla has enough batteries to justify producing mass quantities of the Model 3 and Model Y, along with the sizable battery packs of the Semi, parity could be coming sooner than expected. Most analysts indicated 2023 as the year when battery production would be on a level where EV prices could compete with their petrol-powered counterparts.
However, if the Semi is ready for a production run now, Tesla may have enough cells to introduce a more affordable pricing model for its vehicles. This could, in turn, lead to even higher production numbers, increased demand, and a sharp increase in the company’s delivery numbers.
The announcement of the Tesla Semi meant much more than the company producing its commercial vehicle. It means batteries are no longer in restricted amounts, the technology is improving, and the prices of the company’s vehicles could be coming down soon. With this, it appears that Elon Musk’s endgame with his Master Plan may be getting closer to reality.