Tesla’s Director of Battery Engineering, Jon Wagner, has reportedly left the company to focus on a new role at a battery and powertrain startup in Redwood City, CA. The report, first surfaced on Jalopnik, states that Wagner departed Tesla in October, despite his LinkedIn profile still showing that he’s currently employed by the Silicon Valley electric car maker.
Wagner, who’s been at Tesla since 2013, has served as Tesla’s Interim Director for Body Engineering, Computer Aided Engineering, Materials, and Battery Manufacturing Engineering throughout his near five-year term. During his time at Tesla, Wagner led the cost-down and product improvement effort for Model S and Model X’s battery pack. He also pushed research and development efforts that would ultimately translate into technological innovation for Tesla’s Powerwall and Model 3.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Wagner is one of the inventors on a patent that was filed by Tesla for an Energy storage system with heat pipe thermal management. We’ve provided background for the patent as outlined by the USPTO.
Energy storage systems are used in a variety of contexts. For example, an electric vehicle can have a number of individual energy storage units (e.g., lithium-ion cells) stored inside a compartment, and this system is often referred to as a battery pack. Cells and other storage units generate heat during operation, such as during the charging process and when the cells are used to deliver energy, for example to the propulsion/traction system of the vehicle.
One cooling approach currently being used involves lithium-ion cells that are electrically connected by an anode terminal at the bottom of the cell, and a cathode terminal on top of the cell. These cells are arranged to all have the same orientation (e.g., “standing up”) with some spacing provided between all adjacent cells. The spacing facilitates a cooling conduit to run between the cells and be in contact with at least a portion of the outer surface of each cell. The cooling conduit has a coolant flowing through it, which removes thermal energy from inside the battery pack to some location on the outside, where heat can be safely dissipated. In order to provide a safe coolant flow, one must provide fluid connections into and out of the battery package, and the coolant path inside the battery pack must be reliable and have enough capacity.
Wagner’s departure comes at a critical time for Tesla, as it continues to work through battery production challenges being faced at the Gigafactory, and looks to prove to the consumer market that the company’s ‘holy grail’ vehicle, Model 3, will be able to reach volume production of 5,000 vehicles per week by the end of March 2018.
The Silicon Valley electric car maker noted in its third quarter 2017 earnings report that some of the manufacturing processes for Model 3’s battery modules needed to be redesigned, thus delaying the company’s original plan to begin volume production in December by three months. “To date, our primary production constraint has been in the battery module assembly line at Gigafactory 1, where cells are packaged into modules.” read the statement from Tesla in its update letter.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk provided additional background during a Q&A call with analysts, noting that much of the software that was needed for battery module production had to be redesigned. “We had to rewrite all of the software, from scratch. We managed to write 20 to 30 man-years of software in 4 weeks.” said Musk in explaining the level of reprogramming needed for the manufacturing robots.
As senior leaders at Tesla continue to depart, one has to question whether Wall Street’s love and hate stock and Silicon Valley’s sweetheart is biting off more than it can chew. Are these turnovers early indication that Tesla might be headed for a major downturn in 2018 or is it all par for the course?