It appears that Tesla’s battery partner, Panasonic, is preparing for a massive ramp in Gigafactory Nevada, with an executive stating that the Japanese firm will be rolling out a major expansion of its operations on the site. These include the installation of new equipment and the hiring of more workers, which would allow Giga Nevada to produce battery cells at higher rates than before.
Panasonic’s expansion was recently confirmed by Carl Walton, vice president of production engineering and facilities for Panasonic Energy of North America, who shared the updates in a conversation with the Reno Gazette-Journal. According to Walton, some of the expansion should take place within the next few months, and it will likely continue all the way to next year.
“There’s some construction work that needs to take place over the next couple of months. Then early next year, we’ll be installing new equipment with production starting shortly after that,” he said.
The additional capacity will be coming from a 14th battery production line that Panasonic will be adding to Giga Nevada. Walton declined to give the exact number of GWh that the planned expansion will add to the facility’s capacity, though he noted that Panasonic expects the facility’s capacity to increase by about 10% with the upgrades in place. It should be noted that currently, Gigafactory Nevada has a capacity of about 35 GWh per year.
Walton further noted that with the expansion in place, Panasonic will be hiring more employees for Giga Nevada. That being said, the executive noted that the planned hiring ramp will only include about 100 new positions, hinting at the possibility of the 14th line being heavily automated. “The expansion will increase our staffing by about 100 positions. We’re excited to continue our investment in the Northern Nevada community and our people here,” Walton stated.
While speaking with the Gazette-Journal, Walton added that the expansion plans for the Tesla site will not be limited to the new battery cell production line, since existing lines will also be receiving significant upgrades. These upgrades, the exec explained, are necessary to accommodate a new generation of battery cells. “That work is starting now and we’ve already started to convert current equipment to be able to make those batteries for us,” Walton remarked.
Interestingly enough, the Panasonic executive provided some details about the next-generation battery cells that will be produced at Gigafactory Nevada. According to Walton, Panasonic’s latest battery improves energy density by 5% compared to its previous cells. The company also claimed that its new cells are 1.4x denser than competing iron phosphate batteries, making them the world’s highest energy density batteries. These improvements are but a step, however, as Panasonic is reportedly looking to increase the energy density of its battery cells by 20%.
Panasonic’s confirmation of its planned expansion in Gigafactory Nevada highlights the Japanese firm’s strong working relationship with Tesla. Last year, a report from the Nikkei Asian Review, which cited very little sources, alleged that Panasonic was freezing its expansion plans in Giga Nevada. Panasonic Chief Executive Officer Kazuhiro Tsuga also commented on Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s “unpredictable” behavior on Twitter. Musk, for his part, noted that Panasonic has been the reason behind Giga Nevada’s battery supply constraints.
With the recent statements from Walton, however, it appears that both companies now stand on much firmer ground. Panasonic’s expansion of its Gigafactory Nevada operations seems to be a strong strategy this year, after all, especially since its battery business in the Tesla facility has proven profitable even from January to March 2020, a time that is marred by the start of the pandemic. And with electric cars becoming more popular, the Japanese firm will likely have its hands full trying to meet the battery demand for Tesla’s electric vehicles.