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Elon Musk (right) and Jim Lentz with the Toyota RAV4 EV – Click above for high-res image gallery

Following the unveiling of the brand-new Toyota RAV4 EV, "Powered by Tesla," at the LA Auto Show yesterday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales' president and chief operating officer shared a few more details about the vehicle and the partnership. You can get the details on the vehicle here, but people who are interested in the future of Tesla as a strong force in promoting and building electric vehicles (EVs), read on.

Perhaps most important for the plug-in vehicle sector as a whole, Musk said he was confident that lithium-ion battery costs could – could – come down to $300 per kilowatt hour by 2013 at the pack level. "I'm not predicting that," he said, "but it's difficult but achievable – with continued achievements from there." Even if he's off by a few tens of dollars per kWh and a year or two, this is getting into seriously affordable EV and plug-in hybrid territory for more drivers. Musk had more to say, which you can read after the jump.


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Live photos copyright ©2010 Sebastian Blanco / AOL

Tesla is in a pretty good space right now, even we haven't heard that Roadsters sales are any higher than 1,300, a number we've heard for ages. The Silicon Valley automaker has two high-profile deals with big OEMs – Toyota and Daimler – and Musk said Tesla has turned down "many" deals with other OEMS. "The reason we would turn down something," he said "is because we didn't think the ultimate product would be really compelling."



Tesla is keeping busy with getting the Nummi factory ready for Model S production, and maybe more (oh, and it's not called Nummi any more, it's the Tesla Factory). Musk said the Tesla Factory in Fremont has an annual capacity of roughly 500,000 vehicles. Tesla expects to make around 20,000 Model S vehicles there a year, so if Toyota decides to make the RAV4 EV there – and it is a Toyota decision – Musk said "that would be kind of cool."

In preparation for the Model S, Tesla has been installing factory equipment there for several months. The automaker has around 900 employees now, and is hiring around 50 people a month right now. The next big manufacturing milestone comes next year when the aluminum stamping line and the paint shop go into operation. This is all in preparation for Tesla to start delivering the first Model S cars in mid-2012. Musk said that setting up these assembly lines is one example of how Tesla's partnerships with Toyota and Daimler have come in especially handy:
It is a two-say street. We're giving Toyota a window into the entrepreneurial, Silicon Valley culture and, vice versa, we're getting a sense for the Toyota production system. Everything we make for Toyota has to pass very stringent quality standards. We have a little bit of experience with that with Daimler, because Mercedes obviously has very high standards as well, but I think we're learning a lot form Toyota, bidirectionally, in this process and I think that helps us with the Model S. Having access to Lexus components in the supply chain is also helpful.
elon muskThe Model S, though is still very much a Tesla vehicle, and this is something that Musk said he wants to emphasize in the near future. An "exploded view" of the prototype Model S will be on display at the Detroit Auto Show in January. "We will be focusing on the vehicle engineering side of things rather than powertrain," he said. "People understand our powertrain stuff, but they don't really know that we've got great vehicle engineering." Another example of this is the SUV version of the Model S, a concept prototype of which might be unveiled at the end of 2011. "I'm not saying we will," Musk said, "but hopefully."

As for the recent increase in the TSLA stock price, Musk said, "We appreciate the optimism that investors have about the stock. I will work hard to make sure it's not misplaced." Musk said he expects Tesla to be a profitable company in 2013, the first full year of Model S production. He admitted he hasn't been following the General Motors IPO very closely, but did congratulate the company on it.

Back to the RAV4 EV, Lentz said that, initially, the RAV4 EV will be sold in "California and California emissions states" (i.e., these: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona) until Toyota is certain it can perform well everywhere. Musk chimed in to say that Tesla Roadsters are performing well in Norway and hot desert climates.

Long-time first-gen RAV4 EV driver Paul Scott told AutoblogGreen that the new RAV4 EV is a fine return to form for Toyota:
I'm very excited that Toyota has seen the light to bring back this amazing EV. Using Tesla's battery pack is a terrific idea since the cache of Tesla will give the SUV some marketing sparks. I predict the new RAV EV will be a strong competitor to the Honda, Ford, GM and Nissan EVs. But, as a Leaf salesman, I'm really glad to have a mostly open field in which to sell.
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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 17 Comments
      Level4
      • 4 Years Ago
      all I see is companies courting Tesla "small partnerships" to have a peek inside what goes on at Tesla so when Elon dumps the company there will be prospect buyers...
      • 4 Years Ago
      It won't be all packs, Tesla will likely be the first to reach that milestone.

      Tesla uses the most inexpensive cells and they make the biggest packs.

      There will be overhead in packaging/cooling that will be relatively higher in smaller packs.

      Those using more expensive cells in smaller packs will stay much higher than $300/KWh.

        • 4 Years Ago
        Ag-Zn batteries, as in Silver Zinc? Reliable, yes, but silver is a LOT more expensive than Lithium, and quite a bit heavier, too, so Lithium batteries can potentially achieve far higher energy density than Ag-Zn ever could. Come to think of it, zinc/air batteries can also achieve higher energy density, and without that expensive silver are quite a bit cheaper, too.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ag-Zn batteries are the way to go. 40% more capacity and half again as many charge cycles compared to Lithium batteries.
      • 4 Years Ago
      For those who are speculating based on packs made from 18650-style cells, it's really not a valid predictor for what an automotive pack costs. Developing a reliable BMS to individual balance tens of thousands of cells is simply unreasonable. Even Tesla recognizes that - the Model S is not following in the footsteps of the Roadster in terms of pack architecture.

      That's not to say that automotive form-factor batteries will not plummet in cost considerably over the next few years - I think $300 is not unreasonable to expect - but it's hard to gauge prices based on other industries that simply don't have the duty cycle and reliability burdens of an EV.

      It's easy to say "just tab weld a bunch of cells together, toss on some control electronics and an electric motor, and Bob's yer uncle," and it's true that it is eminently possible for someone to build a functional EV on a small budget without a surplus of engineering know-how. But it's also just as easy to say that you can rig up a Briggs & Stratton and build yourself a "car" in your garage. For some reason, people keep buying Toyotas, instead. Wonder why?
        • 4 Years Ago
        That's the problem with the Tesla pack. You can't monitor the individual cells, and when one goes bad, it eats away at the capacity of the sub-pack pretty badly. Each cell contains small variances of capacity that become more of a problem over time as they get disbalanced.

        So they don't have a very useful BMS in that car, which is a shame.

        I understand that those small cells were the only thing available back when the Tesla was invented. However, it's 2010 and we've got car sized cells! I don't know why they haven't switched over to a larger size at all.
        • 4 Years Ago
        At the momment 18650 batteries have got a lot going for them cost-wise, but in spite of the need for increased reliability for EV use car batteries should be able to get near that cost.
        Lithium 18650 use a lot of cobalt, which is expensive as well as very nasty stuff to handle.
        The NMC batteries which seem to be the best bet for high energy density still use cobalt, but far less of it, around 10%, whilst some chemistries like iron phoshate do not use it at all.
        The lower the price gets as prodution issues such as consistency are overcome (typically products start out having high rates of failure by QC, which increases costs, which are gradually reduced as experience is gained, the history of colour televisions is a good example of this) the larger percentage of the cost consists of materials.
        Even the price of what are classified as materials can be somewhat reduced over time though.
        Lithium carbonate cost around $8kg, whereas refined to battery standards it is about $50kg.
        The refining process can be improved and cheapened, although neither is quick or easy.
        So overall industry consensus is that the $300kwh target may be reached around 2015, which is about the same time that Nissan reckon they will have their higher energy density NMC batteries in full production.
        No-one at present has got much idea how further cost reductions below $300kwh can be reached, which as I have argued is increasingly tough to reduce as it is nearer the bone, so barring technological breakthroughs costs after that may drift lower rather than rapidly fall.
        That still puts the cost of a 30kwh pack at a hefty $9,000, so in my view plug in hybrids sporting 10kwh packs and range extenders will put up a stiff fight for the foreseeable future.
        • 4 Years Ago
        At the momment 18650 batteries have got a lot going for them cost-wise, but in spite of the need for increased reliability for EV use car batteries should be able to get near that cost.
        Lithium 18650 use a lot of cobalt, which is expensive as well as very nasty stuff to handle.
        The NMC batteries which seem to be the best bet for high energy density still use cobalt, but far less of it, around 10%, whilst some chemistries like iron phoshate do not use it at all.
        The lower the price gets as prodution issues such as consistency are overcome (typically products start out having high rates of failure by QC, which increases costs, which are gradually reduced as experience is gained, the history of colour televisions is a good example of this) the larger percentage of the cost consists of materials.
        Even the price of what are classified as materials can be somewhat reduced over time though.
        Lithium carbonate cost around $8kg, whereas refined to battery standards it is about $50kg.
        The refining process can be improved and cheapened, although neither is quick or easy.
        So overall industry consensus is that the $300kwh target may be reached around 2015, which is about the same time that Nissan reckon they will have their higher energy density NMC batteries in full production.
        No-one at present has got much idea how further cost reductions below $300kwh can be reached, which as I have argued is increasingly tough to reduce as it is nearer the bone, so barring technological breakthroughs costs after that may drift lower rather than rapidly fall.
        That still puts the cost of a 30kwh pack at a hefty $9,000, so in my view plug in hybrids sporting 10kwh packs and range extenders will put up a stiff fight for the foreseeable future.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't see huge balancing issues with the Roadsters that are out there. It seems Tesla has a handle on balancing. There's a car with 40k miles on it already.

        "I don't know why they haven't switched over to a larger size at all."
        The larger sizes are still in development stage and are expensive for any third party to buy given they are still in low volume right now. Basically if you don't have a joint venture with a battery company you can't get automotive size cells for a decent price, while Tesla can easily get 18650s at very good prices right now.
        Also 18650 still wins in density so far. It's the only cells in existence today that can power the 300 mile version of the Model S at a reasonable weight.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I think Tesla's choice of the 18650s was the correct one at the time because there was pretty much no other choice. But Tesla's brave move into the market has brought all the other car companies along and now we are getting battery chemistry mixes and form factors that are much better suited for the automotive market.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "$300 per kilowatt hour by 2013 at the pack level" . . . I'd love to see it happen but I seriously doubt it. But even $400/KWH at the pack level would be a great advance. That would put the Volt pack at $6400.
        • 4 Years Ago
        try to remember that Martin Eberhard recently said that laptop cells are at around 255$/kWh right now. not in 2013
        if they can't put those together for 150$ per kWh they are doing it wrong.
        a single cell has about 10Wh energy and the size of a finger. 10x10 of those next to eachother and plate welded at each end is 1kWh. in series production that can be done in 60 seconds. perforate the plates so air can flow along them and you can skip the silly water cooling. arrange them together in a case and that's it. a few wires for bms, a few fuses. can be done very cheaply
        300 is not unrealistic at all.

        Nissan also said 9000$ for their 24kWh pack.

        now consider if the automakers actually made the cars light and aerodynamic so they could do the same with half the pack, say 150km range with 12kWh battery at 300$. that's 3600$. much more comfortable cost item in cars. additionally the comfort of knowing you may only have to pay 2500$ when the pack needs to be changed in 10 years. or less because you get money for the used one you have..

        lean is good. lean works

        and lithium will be cheaper still. can be very cheap today, they are just greedy. I'm guessing we'll get close to 100$/kWh at the cell level. combined with lean cars perhaps you can see the financial appeal potential of electric cars. no maintenance, no driving cost, low purchase price. who's going to buy an ICE car then..

        leaf and volt fall extremely short of what an EV can be. so much so that they wont really matter. at most a token thing like the prius. but when the right car comes along.. it'll be zombie town in ICE land
        • 4 Years Ago
        that's not quite true, laptop cells are 'crap' after 3-5 years because they expect the computers to be updated after that time anyways - they charge them to 4.2V, while stopping the charge at 4.1V (with the usual laptop cell chemistries) will in reality double the expected life of the cells...
        • 4 Years Ago
        Laptop cells are not suitable for an automobile unless you don't care if your battery craps out in 3 to 5 years.

        And that $9000 for the Leaf battery pack is highly-suspect. Other than that one report in a British newspaper, it has never been confirmed. As one analyst said, if you have automotive battery packs for $375/KWH, I'll buy every one you can produce right now.

        If the batteries were really that cheap, we'd be driving EVs right now.
      • 4 Years Ago
      fuel cell vehicles with small 5kWhr battery pack are the way to go, price of the fuel cell stack can be reduced any many ways, this technology has huge potential, the current li-io or li-polymer batteries are hitting its technology limits.
      Yhe only problem with H2 cars is refueling stations don't exist (or are rare), while 110 or 220V plug is everywhere.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The price of the stack is very high. But will come down fast if - IF - production volume increases. And that won't happen because of the lack of hydrogen stations. And nobody will build a network of hydrogen stations. Too expensive, and not getting much cheaper.

        Then there is the problem of convincing millions of people to continue to pay high prices for central fueling and being tied to the pump of an oil company.
        • 4 Years Ago
        One way for fuel cell vehicles to get around the "H2 fuel supply problem" is to use fuel cells that can run directly on readily available liquid fuels instead of hydrogen. Solid oxide fuel cells are one, they can run directly on hydrocarbon fuels, though the price is still high and there are technical issues to be solved.

        While Lithium ion might be "hitting limits", other forms of Lithium batteries are not. Lithium sulfur could achieve quadruple the capacity of LiIon, and Lithium/air could achieve 10x the current capacity of LiIon!
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