Reports from sources in China have indicated that Tesla is poised to start producing and selling Model 3 sedans from Gigafactory Shanghai that are equipped with cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. The update was related to Reuters by two people who are reportedly familiar with the matter.
According to the media firm’s anonymous sources, Tesla will be announcing the battery update as early as this coming Thursday. Tesla, for its part, has not released a comment about the matter, at least for now.
LFP batteries would likely provide Tesla with a variety of advantages, the most notable of which is lower production costs. Currently, the Model 3s being produced at Gigafactory Shanghai are being equipped with nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries, which perform very well but are quite expensive. With their NMC batteries, the China-made Model 3 starts at about 271,550 yuan ($39,900) with government subsidies included.
These costs may be lowered by the company’s apparent shift towards LFP batteries. LFP batteries are cheaper to produce than NMC batteries, which should give Tesla notable savings in the manufacturing of the Made-in-China Model 3. Considering Tesla’s strategy of passing over its cost savings to consumers, it would not be surprising if the company ends up adjusting the price of the Giga Shanghai-made Model 3 after the LFP shift.
It should be noted that LFP cells typically have less energy density than NMC cells. While this may be the case, however, reports have suggested that Tesla intends to use zero-cobalt LFP batteries only for the Model 3 Standard Range Plus, which is optimized for cost and not performance. The Standard Range Plus variant of the Model 3 is capable of traveling 250 miles on one charge, which LFP batteries could likely provide.
There are other advantages to the use of LFP cells. For all their power and performance, after all, NMC batteries still use cobalt, a material that is mired in controversy due to the questionable mining practices in countries like Congo. Tesla has made it a point to source cobalt only from reputable sources, but this has not stopped allegations against the company regarding its cobalt use. This was seen recently in the 2020 Annual Shareholder Meeting.
Tesla is currently expanding its reach in the Chinese market. So far, the Model 3 is seeing steady demand in the country, with the company selling over 11,000 vehicles in August. Efforts are also underway to start the production of the Made-in-China Model Y in Gigafactory Shanghai. The Model Y will likely be even more successful in the local market than the Model 3 due to the vehicle competing in the growing crossover segment.