After a noteworthy and lengthy disclaimer that essentially reads “take all this with a grain of salt,” Tesla unveiled its “Master Plan Part 3” on Wednesday. Among other things, the company revealed details about its next-generation car. The company has some interesting intentions here.
Tesla is obsessed with finding manufacturing efficiencies and believes it can improve industry standard practices. Lead designer Franz von Holzhausen and VP engineering Lars Moravy have worked out a new manufacturing process for the car, using renderings of a Model Y as an example. Typically for a one-piece car, the whole body is made in white, assembled and painted before further assembly can take place. This requires removing the doors and using people to assemble the interior. Tesla proposes that the car be made from sub-assemblies instead, which will be confirmed later. The photo above shows separate assemblies for the front, center, and rear of the car, plus separate stampings for the sides and doors. All of these components will be completed individually and assembled into a single unit by the end of production, a process that Tesla says will improve efficiency and therefore profitability.
It’s not an entirely new idea. Many sports cars are based on a kind of central monocoque chassis, to which front and rear subframes are bolted. The difference here is that Tesla wants to do this on a large scale. The company aims to produce 20 million cars a year by 2030 – Toyota built 10.6 million last year – and producing such huge volumes requires a new approach. Will Tesla ever get there? That’s a whole different matter.
As for the powertrain, Tesla also announced that it is working on a permanent magnet motor that does not use any rare earth metals. (BMW already makes a magnetless motor that eschews rare-earth metals.) Tesla claims these motors can work with any kind of battery chemistry and cost per unit about $1,000.
Electric cars typically use a traditional 12-volt battery to run certain auxiliary components. Tesla wants to simplify the wiring used here by making all control units in-house and moving to a 48-volt architecture, which requires less and thinner wiring. Forty-eight-volt architectures are used in today’s mild-hybrid cars, but as far as I know no one has integrated a 48-volt system into a battery electric car. Tesla says the Cybertruck will use a 48-volt system, just like its “next generation” car.
Of course there was also a lot of talk about autonomy, but that was about it for the details of the vehicle. Tesla said the long-delayed Cybertruck — remember it debuted in 2019 — will enter production this year, but said nothing about when the next-generation car will arrive. Rumors of facelifts of the Model 3 and Model Y were also not discussed. At the time of writing, Tesla shares are down 5 percent, apparently due to the lack of detail discussed during the three-and-a-half hour presentation.
We must reiterate that all this should be taken with a grain of salt. In 2016, as part of his second master plan, CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla owners could take advantage of their cars’ self-driving capabilities to use them as robotaxis when they would otherwise be idle. Almost seven years later, Tesla is not offering a fully self-driving car.
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