Tesla is about to leapfrog the competition again

Tesla battery cells evolution

Tesla as any other premium company is about emotions and sells what you want, not what you need, and this makes it go further.


Currently the 18650 battery cells used in Tesla Model S and X already have the best energy density available. They are rated at 750 Wh/L, which means that with the promised energy density 30 % increase for the new 2170 battery cells, Tesla will reach 975 Wh/L – not far from the four-digit golden figure of 1.000 Wh/L. This is amazing and opens many doors for a completely new world…

Not only higher energy density allows more battery capacity, it also reduce production costs, since we get more capacity from the same raw materials. Tesla now claims that the new 2170 battery cells made possible a 35 % cost reduction per kWh. Before the new cells, the kWh cost at the pack level was already below 190 USD, now Tesla battery packs are at most 120 USD per kWh.


The new battery cells open a lot of new possibilities. While the 30 % energy increase makes possible the 100 kWh battery packs turn into 130 kWh, it makes more sense to keep the 100 kWh figure. The same 100 kWh battery pack made with the new 2170 cells will be cheaper to produce, smaller and lighter. The weight reduction will not only make Tesla cars more efficient and with more range, it will also increase their performance – less time required to accelerate and stop (safer).


While the old times when Tesla electric cars had at least three/four times more range and performance, when compared to other electric alternatives, are unlikely to come again, Tesla is determined to distance itself again from competitors. The first step is already set for next month with the removal of the Tesla Model S 60/60D, which have lower EPA range than the Chevrolet Bolt EV. An electric car from Chevrolet with more range than a Tesla, outrageous right?!

However, most of the next improvements are only possible with the new 2170 battery cells for the Model 3 – and later this year, also available in the Model S and X. What is Tesla is working on?


  • Improving the efficiency

Tesla cars have extremely heavy batteries, it’s time to reduce the weight. Furthermore, lighter cars don’t require huge wheels that have enormous rolling resistance and contribute for turbulent drag. The Model 3 is expected to have an extremely impressive drag coefficient of 0,21.

  • Improving the range

While battery capacity can go further than 100 kWh, most of the range increase should be obtained from lighter batteries and aerodynamic tweaks.

  • Faster DC charging

Elon Musk mocked the new CCS fast chargers capable of “only” 350 kW. Tesla is aiming for at least 450-500 kW… which is ludicrous.

  • Better equipment

Tesla Model S and X will definitely get some cool gadgets from the Model 3. For example, I’m thinking for Head-Up Displays (HUD) – which I consider very important for safety – and photovoltaic solar roof – important to reduce the vampire drain effects.

  • Better autonomous driving

Tesla is already miles ahead from competition on this field, nevertheless the Tesla Autopilot 2.0, which is almost ready, will make the distance even longer.

  • Better interiors

Now that Tesla is saving money from reduced kWh battery costs, it can use it to surpass the refinement available in other premium car interiors.


From all the fronts Tesla is now working to improve, efficiency is definitely the one I care the most.

If the Tesla Model 3 matched the Hyundai IONIQ Electric’s efficiency, it would only need an usable battery capacity of 68 kWh to reach an EPA range of 300 miles (483 km).


To sum up, Tesla is always a step or two ahead from the competition (ICE and electrics). This innovative automaker can make concepts cars planned for 2020 look outdated…


What do you think? Will legacy automakers ever catch up?

Pedro Lima

My interest in electric transportation is mostly political. I’m tired of coups and wars for oil. My expectation is that the adoption of electric transportation will be a factor for peace and democracy all over the world.

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4 years ago

I don’t understand how it is possible to claim that Tesla is “miles ahead” of the competition when it comes to autonomous driving. Have you seen the videos of the Bolt running around San Francisco unassisted..? The videos I’ve seen with demos of Tesla’s autopilot have been very underwhelming by comparison – it cannot even deal with a traffic light unless there’s a car in front to stop it going through red lights.

In terms of what they are offering to customers right now, Tesla’s autopilot may be leading the field. But it seems to me this may just as well be due to others being more conservative about what they release and when as due to any inherent technological advantage of Tesla.

Basically, from the limited evidence I’ve seen it seems to me several other manufacturers have self-driving tech that appears likely to be at least as good as Teslas. And with Intel taking over Mobileye I think Tesla may struggle to keep up as time goes by – but this is pure guessing on my part, based simply on the fact that Intel is far and away the world’s biggest chip maker and Mobileye seems to be the leading self-driving tech company out there.

Tesla does have the advantage of lots of miles. Letting customers use the system before its fully developed certainly helps racking up the mileage.

4 years ago
Reply to  Pedro Lima

Yes this is a hugely important distinction.
The manufacturers should be judged on what they sell now, not what they can demonstrate in videos.

4 years ago

Where have you got your figurs from?
From what i have read the cells used in the 85 kWh pack had an energy density on 630 Wh/liter and thta improved 6% when the 90 kWh pack come wish mean 731 Wh/liter. Then they went to 100 kWh it wasn’t any improvements on chemistry, they hade only found a new way to pack them.

Elon have for a long time said that there is an improvements of about 5% per year and I believe that when they have talked about a 30% improvement compere to Model S I believe it’s compere to the fist Model S with 630 Wh/liter. That would mean 819 Wh/liter wish still is good but not as good as you point out in this article.

4 years ago
Reply to  Pedro Lima

Did you listen to the video clip that you have share in the post? He says after the 35:00 mark, wish you have point out, that there was a 40% improvement from the Roadster to Model S and that there is another 30% improvement to Model 3. For me this means a 30% improvement over 85 kWh batteries and not over todays 100 kWh battery.

Tommy G
4 years ago

It’s a little understandable but I do find it annoying that they’ve simply said “Yup, no more than 100kWh”. If they stick at 100kWh for a long time, that means the competition will always offer 60 or 80kWh at MOST for lower-budget cars, and they won’t go above that because they’ll think “only premium cars have 100kWh”.

So I do hope Tesla or at least other important EV car makers decided to break that glass ceiling and go to 150kWh in their higher-end cars by 2022. Then it should be easier to convince car makers to make 100kWh cheaper cars, too, and compromise on other features instead. Because I think ALL EVs should have 100kWh batteries as soon as possible. That should be the absolute minimum in a decade, for all EVs, especially if battery prices drop by 4-5x by then.

I think the MAIN reason Tesla is even staying at 100kWh is because they’d rather invest that cost savings in more advanced autonomous driving systems. And for someone that is not interested at all in self-driving cars (just autonomous safety features, which should be a lot cheaper than a complete self-driving system), that makes it quite frustrating indeed.