The root of the Tesla story (lithium battery manufacture) is so boring it’s no wonder Musk must resort to PR stunts.
As a seasoned Electric Vehicle (EV) aficionado, the more press coverage I read about Tesla, the more I’m convinced about the collective ignorance of the press – especially the auto press.
Designing and building a car or truck is no mean feat, it’s true. But it seems to me that very few have any clue about the huge opportunities EV builders have with modern electric motors, which give them a head start over anything combustion powered.
Things have come a long way since the iconic British milk float and early subway trains.
For a start, electric powertrains don’t need gearboxes – an electric motor, equipped with sophisticated electronic control has perfect variable torque. Just the right amount of power can be delivered to the driving wheels to move off perfectly whether you’re driving a train on rails or the flashiest roadster money can buy. Perhaps auto journalists don’t travel on modern electric trains and have never noticed this simple fact.
So of course, Musk’s truck is ‘a truck like no other’, because its driver is never going to have to make hundreds of gear changes up and down two gear boxes when the gradient changes or the traffic slows down.
The real secret behind the Tesla story has been hidden for years.
Nobody knows the name Kurt Kelty, the genius battery expert Musk employed more than a decade ago. Kelty came up with a mind-blowing concept of using thousands of tiny cylindrical lithium-ion cells which were then the mainstay of laptop power – until laptops got thin. That same concept is being used to build power packs in all of Tesla’s vehicles, big and small.
Musk’s biggest limitation is not money or sales volumes, but energy density and cost. A litre of gasoline has an energy density of 11,000Wh/l. Today’s ‘best in show’ lithium chemistries might make 400Wh/l. And we’re stuck with lithium for the foreseeable future. Oh yes, there are other potential battery chemistries out there, but they’re still very much in the laboratory. Tesla still has to focus on cost reduction, which is a tedious story for the mainstream press. So, if the truck is a publicity stunt, you can see why. Batteries are important, but most people consider them boring. If you need to catch up on sleep, a battery conference is just the ticket!