Tesla’s ‘skunkworks lab’ for its custom battery cell pilot production line is growing

(Credit: CNBC)

Tesla’s Battery Day may still be a couple of months away, but hints about the highly-anticipated event’s details are already abounding. With Elon Musk specifically mentioning that the event will be held in Fremont, and that it will include a tour of the company’s pilot battery cell production line, it appears that previous reports, which point to a “skunkworks lab” in the city, were accurate. What’s more, documents filed by the electric car maker in previous months seem to indicate that its mysterious pilot battery cell facility is growing. 

Initial leaks and reports about Tesla’s mysterious “skunkworks lab” were posted as early as June 2019, with a CNBC article stating that the facility is located at Kato Road, just a few minutes away from the Fremont factory, where the Model S, Model 3, Model X, and Model Y are built. Citing former and current Tesla employees, the news agency stated that Tesla’s R&D teams were focused on prototyping and designing advanced lithium-ion batteries, as well as new equipment and processes that could usher in the mass production of the next-gen cells. 

These batteries are now widely speculated to be the million-mile battery that has been mentioned by the company. The million-mile battery is a significant part of Tesla’s game plan, being the one defining factor that could help electric vehicles achieve price parity with gas powered cars, and allow battery storage devices to last decades when deployed. Amidst the wait for Battery Day, speculations are abounding that Tesla will be conducting a deep dive into its million-mile batteries during the event, similar to how Autonomy Day included an in-depth discussion on the company’s custom Hardware 3.0 computer. 

Tesla’s 2170 battery cells. (Credit: Tesla)

As it turned out, Tesla’s skunkworks lab at Kato Road has been very busy this year. A proposal submitted last March, for example, outlines plans to redevelop the existing site by adding floors to the facility. According to Tesla, the redesigned building will be housing 45 research and development employees and up to 425 manufacturing workers that are spread through several shifts from Monday through Friday. This appears to suggest that the company, as early as March this year, was looking to ramp the battery cell output of its pilot production line. 

Interestingly enough, Tesla has also been posting multiple job listings on its Careers page that were specifically focused on battery cell manufacturing. By May 2020, Tesla had posted job listings for Cell Engineers, Production Process Engineers, and Controls Engineers. A look at these listings would show references to a battery cell manufacturing operations, and as luck would have it, the posts listed Fremont, California as their location. 

Further documents show that Tesla had also requested to increase its power demand by 6 MW, further hinting that activities in the site are poised to ramp soon. This proposal, based on a response from PG&E that was recently shared online, was approved. 

Based on these filings and job listings, it is evident that Tesla’s pilot battery cell manufacturing line has been ramping, or at least is poised to ramp, its operations. This is particularly impressive, considering that the Kato Road facility, which reportedly hosts the company’s skunkworks lab, is a fairly small site, comprising of two buildings that cover 184,880 sq. ft. combined. This means that even in this relatively small location, Tesla has been able to create a pilot line for a new breed of batteries that can change the EV game. This is quite a significant accomplishment, considering that previous battery lines are known to consume a lot of space. 

Tesla’s Gigafactory Nevada facility is the perfect example of this. Giga Nevada primarily produces battery cells, and it is poised to be one of the largest buildings in the world by footprint once it’s complete. If Tesla’s pilot battery cell production line in Kato Road is indeed fully functional and ramped, then one can only imagine how much more batteries facilities like Gigafactory Nevada can produce with the company’s next-generation technology. 

Tesla’s proposal for an expansion of its Kato Road facility could be accessed below.

Tesla Kato Road Update by Simon Alvarez on Scribd

H/T JPR007

Tesla’s ‘skunkworks lab’ for its custom battery cell pilot production line is growing
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