Tesla is set to host two technology events this year, CEO Elon Musk revealed Tuesday. The company is set to lift the lid on two of its major areas of research, exploring its advancements in both the batteries and the powertrains that power its electric vehicles. That means more battery range, faster speeds, and possibly a bigger transition toward renewable energy.
The firm was originally expected to discuss the two technologies in one big April event. On Tuesday, Musk shared on Twitter that the company will now host two events, with a powertrain-focused day arriving "later this year." Musk explained that the firm split the two events because "there’s a lot to talk about just on the battery front."
The two events will come at a difficult time for the world and a curious time for Tesla. The coronavirus pandemic has led to a rapid reshaping of global economies, and Tesla is one of many firms that has been asked to close factories to avoid the virus from spreading. Despite this, the company still recorded its best-ever first quarter of production at the start of April with 88,400 deliveries.
It also comes just after Musk claimed in November 2019 that Tesla wouldn't be revealing new products for a while. The company has a packed schedule for the future: the second-generation Roadster, Semi truck, and Cybertruck are all set to launch in the coming years. Tesla also started deliveries last month for the Model Y compact SUV, adding another entry-level vehicle to its lineup.
These technology days are not product launches in the traditional sense, but are instead likely to be modeled on the Autonomy Day held in April 2019. That event detailed the company's plans to make every car produced since October 2016 into a fully-autonomous vehicle, using the "Hardware 3" computer to read information from the pre-installed cameras and sensors. Although not a product launch, the event shed light on the company's current progress and how it planned to reach milestones like a robo-taxi fleet by 2020.
Here's what to expect from Tesla's next two events:
Event one: battery day
Tesla is expected to host an event that discusses its latest battery technologies, advancements that could boost the range and power of its vehicles. It could enable a Model S, for example, to offer more than its current 391 miles of EPA-rated range per charge.
During the company's July 2019 conference call, Musk explained that the firm planned to host a battery day. This would offer “a comprehensive review of cell chemistry, module and pack, architecture, and a manufacturing plan that has a clear roadmap to a terawatt-hour per year.”
The terawatt-hour plan is something Musk has referred to as the key to transitioning the world onto sustainable energy. Benchmark Minerals claimed the world produced around 160 gigawatt-hours of lithium-ion batteries last year. In the July 2019 call, Musk estimated Tesla was producing around 35 gigawatt-hours per year total. Tesla's long term goal, Musk explained, was to produce multiple terawatt-hours per year "in order to really make a fundamental shift in the world’s energy usage."
Beyond electric vehicles, batteries are also needed to support clean energy projects. Solar and wind energy offer zero-emissions energy, but on their own can't guarantee a 24-hour source of electricity. Pairing these sources with batteries can enable them to provide energy even when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.
But this is expected to be a technology event, and the technology at play will be interesting. A major factor that could emerge is Tesla's acquisition of Maxwell Technologies in February 2019, a battery firm that has explored exotic ideas like superconductors and high-density batteries.
Tesla officials have also suggested they could start producing their own batteries, instead of depending on partners like Panasonic to build the firm's cells. A February report claimed the project was called "Roadrunner," and it's aimed at increasing density and reducing prices. The report also claimed that Tesla has been working to fit a "Roadrunner" battery into a Model S or X for demonstration at the Battery Day event.
Last month, Musk confirmed that the event would be livestreamed.
Event two: powertrain day
Tesla's second event will focus on the powertrain, the system that delivers that stored power and helps the vehicles' wheels turn at high speed.
Musk explained during the company's first-quarter earnings call in January that the powertrain is "a big part" of why the company can offer better range on the same battery packs as its competitors, as it uses the energy more efficiently to move the vehicle.
This event is likely to focus on the Plaid powertrain. The curious name stems from cult '80s film Spaceballs, a favorite of Musk's. In the film, Plaid is considered one step beyond Ludicrous. The latter is the current name for Tesla's high-performance mode. A "Plaid" mode was originally announced in November 2017 for the second-generation Roadster, but it's unclear whether it has since morphed into the name for the powertrain instead.
The Plaid powertrain is the successor to the "Raven" powertrain that started rolling out in early 2019. This iteration brought a permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motor, as found on the performance versions of the Model 3, to the Model S and X.
In September 2019, Musk declared that a seven-seater Tesla Model S with the Plaid powertrain would enter production in October or November 2020. This would be followed by a Model X and second-generation Roadster.
Early tests with the powertrain have shown promise. A Plaid-equipped Model S set a lap time on the Nurburgring of seven minutes and 23 seconds – 19 seconds faster than the Porsche Taycan. The second-generation Roadster, another Plaid vehicle, is set to offer 0 to 60 mph acceleration times of under two seconds.
"Promise" may be an understatement. Musk claimed during the company's first-quarter earnings call in January that the powertrain is "like alien technology, it's insane."