Tesla Rumored To Introduce Cobalt-Free Model 3 In China This Week In Major Shift

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Rumors indicate that electric vehicle and renewable energy products manufacturer Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) will introduce a new variant of its popular Model 3 sedan in China. The company manufactures and sells vehicles in the East Asian country through its Shanghai-based Gigafactory. Tesla, which detailed extensive plans for its battery manufacturing last week, will equip the rumored variant with a new battery. This will not include the new 4680 battery cell that the company announced at its Battery Day 2020. Instead, unverified reports suggest that the packs will be cobalt-free and use lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) instead of nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC).

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Batteries of a Model 3 consist of two key parts, namely the anode and the cathode. These facilitate the flow of electrons to the vehicle's powertrain and other systems. Subsequently, they provide the power for driving the Model 3 and using its electronics. For the cathode, Tesla currently uses NMC and the rumors sourced by Sina Finance suggest an incoming replacement.

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This replacement will remove Cobalt from the equation, as Tesla makes the switch to LFP. The material has been at the center of attention for electric vehicle manufacturers. They believe that it will provide a host of improvements over its predecessor, and reduce costs of sourcing expensive Cobalt.

Sina Finance cites two people 'familiar with the matter' as the source of this information. The sources also believe that all of Tesla's standard mileage Model 3s in China will switch over to LFP. By removing Cobalt the automaker should be able to reduce its vehicle prices; a fact that has proven to be critical in gaining market share in China. Tesla's competitors in the country sell larger vehicles at lower prices, with the company also being unable to effectively make use of China's subsidies due to pricier vehicles.

A customized variant of the Hongguang MINI EV which overtook Tesla's Model 3 as the most sold electric vehicle in China this August. The Hongguang has a top speed of 62 miles-per-hour, a 27hp motor and a 13.8 kWh battery pack. Image: autohome.com.cn

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Additionally, Tesla will source its new batteries externally even as it plans to move the production in-house. According to today's information, it will procure the new batteries from China's Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL). CATL is one of Tesla's existing battery suppliers and the company will continue to rely on it as it builds its own manufacturing facilities.

LFP batteries are believed to possess several important improvements over their counterparts. Most importantly, they are less prone to overheating and explosion. Besides these, they also feature longer cycles and greater operational temperature ranges.

Today's news of the switch to LFP is not the first time such reports have surfaced for Tesla China. The company filed a request with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in May for the new Model 3s. Back then, Tesla was also reported to be in discussion with LG Chem, another existing battery supplier for sourcing the battery. Whether LG will also supply Tesla with the LFP batteries is uncertain, as today's information does not mention the Korean company.

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In the long-term, Tesla plans to manufacture its own batteries. According to revelations made on its Battery Day 2020, the automaker is currently improving its subsidiary Maxwell Technologies' manufacturing processes. These processes deal with dry coating the battery cell's electrodes, and according to Tesla CEO Mr. Elon Musk, the company is currently on its fourth revision of Maxwell's manufacturing machine.

Tesla segregates its battery production into four processes. These involve cell printing and assembly, a high-speed manufacturing run and cell testing through charging and discharging. The company expects to achieve One Terawatt-hour battery production in the long-term and produce an output of 20 GWh through a single assembly line following optimizations.