Tesla’s image has been overshadowed for the last few months by Elon Musk’s antics around his purchase of Twitter. But the car company has continued to perform well, despite its share price dropping like a stone. Tesla sold a record 1.3 million vehicles in 2022, with the Model Y doing particularly well. It was the number three car by sales volume in the UK, for example. One thing that could really bring Tesla’s cars back into the public eye in a more positive light, however, could be the arrival of the Next Generation platform. Here’s what we know about it so far.
Tesla’s Next Generation Platform Will Be Cheap
The excitement around the new platform is because, reading between the lines, this is going to be the basis for the much-anticipated “$25,000 Tesla”. While this has been delayed and is unlikely to arrive in the 2023/4 timeframe initially mooted in 2020, it does appear to be on the way. Much of what we know comes from the Q3 Tesla Earnings Call in October.
The first detail Musk let slip in October is that the Next Generation platform will cost half what the current Model 3 / Y platform costs to produce, which in turn led to a dramatic reduction in price of these compared to the Model S and X. The 3 is not half the price of the S and the Y isn’t half the price of the X, so don’t expect cars based on the new platform to be half as much again as the Model 3 / Y. But they will be another level cheaper.
Mass Production Expected But Not Until 2025 – Or Later
The new platform will be the third mainstream one from Tesla. Musk claimed that production volumes will massively surpass the Model 3 and Y, and indeed will go beyond all other Tesla vehicle manufacturing quantities put together. It will harness the full potential of production enhancements such as the Giga Press, which casts large chassis sections in one piece.
However, these volumes are likely to arrive in 2025 or later, even though Musk has claimed the Generation 3 Platform will be “the primary focus of the vehicle development team” from now on. This is because the Semi truck has finally shipped, and Cybertruck production is meant to be starting in earnest too, so these will be the main new products over the next couple of years.
The 4680 Battery Will Be Central
The new platform will be smaller than anything produced by Tesla yet. Its abilities will revolve around the new 4680 battery, which is finally starting to appear in volume. In December 2022, Tesla confirmed that it can now produce enough 4680 cells for 1,000 cars a week. On Christmas Day 2022, the company claimed to have built 868,000 cells in the previous week. The lower production cost of the 4680 cell and structural battery configuration (where the rigidity of the battery forms part of the chassis, reducing the need for separate structure) will help keep the costs down.
Some have predicted that the new Tesla will have a range of under 200 miles, but this seems unlikely given Elon Musk’s dislike for producing vehicles capable of less than 300 miles. The Model Y Rear-Wheel Drive only manages 267 miles (WLTP), but that’s the only Tesla with under 300 miles you can currently buy. Tesla may be planning a more urban-orientated vehicle that doesn’t need to drive hundreds of miles in a day, but for the US market it seems unlikely that any future Tesla will go much lower than 300 miles. Battery price reductions may have stalled a little, but the direction is down, so fitting 300 miles even into a small cheap car isn’t unreasonable. After all, MG is getting close to that range with its budget-busting MG4.
Still Fast, Still Autonomous
Another factor you can also take for granted is that Teslas are always fast. The Model Y Rear-Wheel Drive is currently the slowest model available, and even that can hit 60mph in 6.6seconds, which would be fast for a hot hatch, let alone an SUV. So you can expect the smaller Tesla to be at least as quick, and there will probably be a Performance dual motor version that comes close to the speed of the Model 3 and Y Performance. For all those European “boy racers” looking for a rapid electric hatchback to menace the neighborhood, this could well be their dream come true.
Another feature you can guarantee will be autonomous driving at some level in all vehicles. This was something Musk promised for the $25,000 car mooted at the 2020 Battery Day. I recently predicted that FSD would get a general release in 2023, thanks to the huge beta test of 160,000 drivers in the USA and the massive model-crunching Dojo supercomputer coming online this year. With Tesla trying to perfect this system with cameras only via Tesla Vision, it’s not such a leap to expect it to be cheaply implemented in a budget-conscious vehicle. Indeed, Musk has claimed the Next Generation Platform will be the one that will form the basis for the robotaxis he claimed would be on the road in 2020.
We will have to wait a little longer for exact technical details about the Tesla Next Generation Platform and its vehicles. They are set to be unveiled at Investor Day 2023 on March 1st. But with a key piece of the puzzle – the 4680 cell – now hitting serious production volume, the next era of Tesla’s EV dominance is moving inexorably closer. It might arrive just in the nick of time, too, if the American company isn’t to see itself usurped by the Chinese brands that are beginning to look beyond local markets, such as BYD and SAIC. Tesla’s Next Generation Platform will have to beat them to market with a truly affordable EV to break into the mass market beyond luxury vehicles.