Tesla partner Panasonic’s US plans hint at possible Model S and X battery update

Tesla might be looking to expand its array of battery suppliers with the upcoming construction and operation of Gigafactory 3 in China, but its current exclusive battery supplier, Panasonic, is looking to double down on its partnership with the electric car maker nonetheless. In a recent statement to Japanese media, Panasonic announced that it plans to move its Tesla battery production facilities to the United States next year.

Panasonic already manufactures batteries for Tesla’s vehicles in the US in Gigafactory 1, though the cells it produces on the site are the 2170 cells being utilized for the Model 3. Tesla’s two flagship vehicles — the Model S and Model X — are still equipped with custom 18650 cells, which are produced by Panasonic in facilities located in Japan. Based on a report from the Nikkei Asian Review, these are the operations that the Japanese company will be bringing over to a “US-based unit starting next April.”

Considering that Panasonic is already producing 2170 cells for the Model 3 in Gigafactory 1, the company’s move of its Tesla battery production lines to a US-based facility could pave the way for a well-deserved and much-anticipated battery update for the Model S and X. The move, if any, provides Panasonic the opportunity to normalize its battery production for Tesla’s electric cars. It does not seem to be a strategic move for Panasonic, after all, to move its battery production operations to the United States to manufacture 18650 cells that are bound to be upgraded in the near future.

Tesla’s 18650 cells for the Model S and X, while not as energy-dense as the Model 3’s 2170 cells, still hold up well today. A recent range and efficiency test of the Jaguar I-PACE by German network nextmove, for example, showed that the Model X, which is equipped with 18650 cells, still seems to have superior battery tech than the newer electric crossover from the British carmaker. Elon Musk, for his part, lauded the Model 3’s 2170 cells in the third quarter earnings call, stating that the electric car currently stands as the “most energy efficient energy per mile electric vehicle out there.”

Tesla’s 2170 cells are hailed by industry experts as a difference-maker for the Silicon Valley-based company. Detroit veteran Sandy Munro, for one, noted after tearing down and analyzing the Model 3 that the electric car’s 2170 batteries are the best that he has seen to date. The potential of the 2170 cells could be seen in the Model 3 Performance’s recent Track Mode update, which allows the electric car to compete with the automotive industry’s best high-performance sedans on a closed circuit.

Elon Musk has noted that there is no such thing as a “full refresh” for its vehicles. In a statement on Twitter, Musk pointed out that Tesla’s electric cars are partially upgraded every month “as soon as a new subsystem is ready for production.” With this in mind, there seems to be little doubt that when the production of 2170 cells reaches a point where it is capable of supporting the Model S and X, Tesla will equip the vehicles with the larger, newer cells.

Both the Model S and Model X have defied the odds over the years, competing and even dominating their respective segments despite an abundance of skepticism and Tesla’s lack of experience in the auto industry. Considering that the vehicles are Tesla’s flagships, though, it stands to reason that both electric cars would be equipped with the best that the company has to offer — in terms of batteries, that pertains to the 2170 cells. 

Tesla partner Panasonic’s US plans hint at possible Model S and X battery update
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