After the challenging ramp of the original Tesla Roadster, the electric car maker opted for a clean-sheet design for its next vehicle, the Model S sedan. Through these efforts, the Tesla team was able to come up with a “skateboard” concept, which involved placing the battery pack at the floor of the vehicle and the electric motor between the rear wheels.
Tesla’s skateboard design became iconic, and it was only a matter of time before other carmakers from veterans like Audi and newcomers like Rivian were adopting the same concept for their respective EVs. Yet, if recent comments from the third-quarter earnings call are any indication, it appears that Tesla is now poised to abandon the skateboard that it practically pioneered in favor of the structural battery packs that were announced on Batter Day.
During the Q&A session of the Q3 earnings call, Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois asked if Tesla’s development of structural batteries would mean that the company is retiring its iconic skateboard. Musk promptly responded, stating that the skateboard will indeed be “obsolete” in the long term. Musk noted that the transition to structural battery packs will take years, before explaining the rationale behind the skateboard’s retirement.
“It’s not like existing cars stop having value. It’s just that if you have a structural pack, where the pack is contributing structural value to the car because of like the — sort of like the composite honeycomb effect of share transfer between upper and lower plate, then anything that doesn’t do that is going to have to have duplicate hardware.
“It’s going to weigh more. It’s going to cost more. And then the same goes for the front and rear castings. To be frank, we’re trying to make the car like you’d make a toy. If you had a toy model car, how would — and then it’s got to be real cheap and look great, how would you make that? You’ll cast it,” he said.
Simply put, Musk noted that the transition to structural battery packs could be seen as a natural progression. This, according to the CEO, echoes much of what happened to aircraft, whose early designs featured separate aeroshells for fuel tanks.
“It would be absurd to make it up of tiny little pieces of stamp metal joined in complex ways. So it’s sort of a natural thing to do. And then the same goes for using the energy storage, the battery as a structure, which is done for aircraft wings and for rockets.
“The early rockets and aircraft, they had a separate aeroshell from the propellant tanks or fuel tanks, and then they realized that doesn’t make sense. And you’ve got to integrate — you’ve got to have your fuel tank in wing shape. You’ve got to have your propellant tanks in the shape of the body of the rocket, for example. You don’t want to put a box on a box, basically,” Musk explained.
Tesla’s retirement of its skateboard would likely enable the company to leapfrog its competition once more. When Tesla debuted its skateboard with the Model S, it was considered as a game-changing idea, and it definitely proved to be the case. Tesla appears to be doing the same thing with its structural battery packs. As noted by Elon Musk, the company simply seems to be embracing the next game-changing idea, and its cars will likely be superior against their competition because of it.
Watch Tesla Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen explain the skateboard concept in the video below.