Tesla’s image has been overshadowed by Elon Musk’s antics surrounding his Twitter purchase in recent months. But the automaker has continued to do well even though its share price has fallen like a rock. Tesla sold a record 1.3 million vehicles in 2022, with the Model Y doing particularly well. For example, it was the number three car by sales volume in the UK. However, one thing that could really put Tesla’s cars back in the public eye in a more positive light could be the arrival of the next-generation platform. Here’s what we know about it so far.
Tesla’s next-gen platform will be cheap
The excitement about the new platform is that, reading between the lines, it will be the basis for the much-anticipated “$25,000 Tesla.” Although this has been delayed and is unlikely to arrive in the 2023/4 timeframe originally discussed in 2020, it appears to be on the way. Much of what we know comes from the Q3 Tesla earnings call in October.
The first detail Musk revealed in October is that the next-gen platform will cost half the production cost of the current Model 3/Y platform, which in turn led to a dramatic price reduction of this platform compared to the Model S and X 3 isn’t half as expensive as the S and the Y isn’t half as expensive as the X, so don’t expect cars based on the new platform to cost half as much as the Model 3/Y again. But they will be one another level cheaper.
Mass production expected, but not before 2025 – or later
The new platform will be Tesla’s third mainstream platform. Musk claimed that production volumes will massively exceed those of the Model 3 and Y, and in fact will exceed all other Tesla vehicle production volumes combined. It will take full advantage of production upgrades like the Giga press, which casts large chassis sections in one piece.
However, those quantities are likely to arrive in 2025 or later, although Musk has claimed that the Gen 3 platform will be “the primary focus of the vehicle development team” from now on. This is because the semi-truck has finally been delivered and Cybertruck production is also set to start in earnest, so these will be the key new products over the next few years.
The 4680 battery will be central
The new platform will be smaller than anything Tesla has previously produced. Its capabilities will revolve around the new 4680 battery that is finally appearing in large numbers. In December 2022, Tesla confirmed it can now produce enough 4680 cells for 1,000 cars per week. On Christmas Day 2022, The company said it built 868,000 cells in the previous week. The lower production costs of the 4680-cell and structural battery configuration (where the battery’s rigidity is part of the chassis, reducing the need for a separate structure) help keep costs down.
Some have predicted that the new Tesla will have a range of less than 200 miles, but that seems unlikely given Elon Musk’s reluctance to produce vehicles with a range of less than 300 miles. The Model Y Rear-Wheel Drive only gets 267 miles (WLTP), but that’s the only sub-300-mile Tesla you can buy right now. Tesla may be planning a more city-oriented vehicle that doesn’t need to drive hundreds of miles in a day, but for the US market, it seems unlikely that a future Tesla will go much less than 300 miles. Battery price cuts may have stalled a little, but the direction is in the reverse direction, so putting 300 miles into even a small cheap car isn’t unreasonable. After all, MG is approaching that range with its budget MG4.
Still fast, still autonomous
Another factor that you can also take for granted is that Teslas are always fast. The rear-wheel-drive Model Y is currently the slowest model available, and even that can hit 60mph in 6.6 seconds, which would be fast for a hot hatch, let alone an SUV. So you can expect the smaller Tesla to be at least as fast, and there will likely be a dual-motor performance version that will match the speed of the Model 3 and Y Performance. For all those European boy racers looking for a fast electric hatchback to threaten the neighborhood, this could well be their dream.
Another feature you can guarantee is autonomous driving in all vehicles to some extent. That’s what Musk promised for the $25,000 car up for debate at Battery Day 2020. I recently predicted that FSD would get a general release in 2023, thanks to the huge 160,000-driver beta test in the US and the massive model-crunching supercomputer Dojo coming online this year. With Tesla trying to perfect this system with cameras only via Tesla Vision, expecting it to be cheaply implemented in a budget-conscious vehicle isn’t a huge leap forward. In fact, Musk has claimed that the next-gen platform will be the one that will provide the foundation for the robotic taxis he claims will hit the streets in 2020.
We still have to wait a bit for precise technical details on the Tesla Next Generation Platform and its vehicles. They are to be presented at Investor Day 2023 on March 1st. But with a key piece of the puzzle — the 4680 cell — now reaching serious production volume, the next era of Tesla’s EV dominance draws inexorably closer. It could also be just in time if the American company doesn’t want to find itself being usurped by Chinese brands like BYD and SAIC, which are starting to look beyond local markets. Tesla’s next-gen platform needs to launch with a truly affordable EV to break beyond luxury vehicles into the mass market.