Tesla’s big announcement on batteries has the potential to shape the future of electric cars

It’s the latest innovation push by the Silicon Valley car builder that has aimed to rewrite the rules on electric vehicles, making them performance-oriented and aspirational in a way that has eluded competitors. But electric vehicles constitute a small slice of the overall car market, and to expand, Tesla will need to reign supreme over not only the manufacturing of vehicles but also their lifeblood: batteries. Elon Musk plans to announce Tesla’s plans for tackling that issue at a widely anticipated “Battery Day” event Tuesday.

“Today, [electric vehicles] account for about 3% of cars sold globally,” Gene Munster, an investor and managing partner of Loup Ventures, wrote in an analyst note ahead of the event. “Tesla has an opportunity to parlay its current 80% [electric vehicle] market share in the US, along with about 20% in Europe and Asia, into a massive business in the years to come. To be successful, the company needs to ramp its production of batteries.”

Musk has said any development unveiled Tuesday “will not reach serious high-volume production until 2022.” But he also hinted that it involves a serious ramp-up of battery production to power vehicles the company has announced, such as its Semi, Cybertruck and Roadster. Tesla would need to seriously advance its battery technology to make some of those offerings possible, given that it has announced a range of more than 500 miles for one variant of its Cybertruck pickup. A range of that distance would be roughly enough to drive from Washington, D.C., to New York City and back again.

By contrast, Tesla says its current highest-range offering — the Model S — can travel as far as 402 miles on a single charge. Competitors such as start-up Lucid Motors have announced energy-dense electric vehicles with ranges topping 500 miles.

Batteries are one of the most complex ingredients to electric vehicles, thanks in large part to the resource-intensive process of manufacturing them. A battery with a longer life span presents one route to reducing the environmental footprint of electric vehicles, making them a more viable proposition at the scale needed to start seriously phasing out internal-combustion cars.

Still, the mining of rare metals, including those needed to build electric vehicles, can expose local communities to significant environmental impacts, including toxic elements that can lead to respiratory issues and birth defects.

The battery event was set to take place following an annual shareholder meeting at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif. manufacturing facility. It was an unusual setting tailor-made for the covid-era.

Rows of Tesla cars filled with shareholders lined up in a parking lot near the presentation stage. The drivers gave a rousing honk of approval when Musk took the stage and proceeded to beep their horns whenever Musk made a proclamation they liked.

“We’ve got the Tesla drive-in movie theater, basically,” Musk said.

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