Keeping up with battery technology

Keeping up with battery technology

I am excited about the S coming out next year, but starting to get a little hesitant about the battery technology. There is a lot of work being done on this front and much of it seems imminent (less than a year away.)
I would be disappointed to buy a LI pack only to find it has been replace 6 months later with a capacitive pack or liquid battery. If this were a notebook or cell phone, I'd say oh well, buy it now and buy it again later. But this is an expensive car. I wonder if Tesla is planning any kind of buy-back on the batteries...

Volker.Berlin | December 9, 2011

At least the Model S is designed to easily swap batteries (in the Tesla service center, with heavy gear, but in just a few minutes). So technically there's hope that it will be possible to upgrade the battery later, where later probably means a couple years down the road.

Personally, I am not worried that I might be buying outdated technology. I am sure I won't. There has always been technology that looked to be just around the corner, but actually arrived years later (or never). Particularly with automotive grade components, it takes considerable time until new parts are sufficiently matured to be built into a mass product. I am very happy that Tesla decided to go with tried and true technology, so that, e.g., lessons learned from the Roadster can be applied. And mind you that the technology might seem old, but the cells are actually the latest evolutionary version of this type available.

It will be outdated one or two years after purchase in any case, but I want my Model S asap. I'll take it and not look back until my battery seriously degrades, at which point I'll be happy that a significant upgrade will be available for relatively little money.

Mycroft | December 9, 2011

If the Model S meets your needs, then it should still meet your needs when some new tech comes down the pike. Plus, as Volker points out, there may even be an upgrade path.

Even if there isn't an upgrade path, the Model S as it's currently envisioned more than meets my needs (other than perhaps a cheaper price), so I'm happy with it.

EdG | December 9, 2011

Keep in mind what others have said several times already: any of the battery packs should degrade about 30% in seven years. That may very well be enough to continue using it without replacement for years after that.

David70 | December 9, 2011

By then there should be enough charging infrastructure in place (and I'll be old enough) that I don't mind stopping for a recharge every two hours. The car could still go the rest of my life, or until upgrade batteries will be cheap enough that I won't mind buying replacements.

Mycroft | December 9, 2011

The screen technology will go out of date long before the battery tech. In a few years we'll be kicking ourselves because we'll still have a car that you have to actually talk to. It won't read our minds like the new cars being sold. :)

Volker.Berlin | December 9, 2011

If the Model S meets your needs, then it should still meet your needs when some new tech comes down the pike. (Mycroft)

So true, and often overlooked! ;-)

Teoatawki | December 9, 2011

For goodness sake, don't tell my wife that!

My5bAby | December 9, 2011

I'd like to offer a phrase that I have used often when discussing this issue regarding computers and other high tech equipment.

" If you can buy it, it's obsolete ". The implication being if you are waiting for the latest to become available you will never get anything. Therefore get what you need and what you want and be satisfied.

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BruceR | December 9, 2011

I think you need to take that logic one step further. "get what you need and what you want" should be taken even further. Buy top end equipment to fill that need because you are going to be living with it awhile. Buy that extra memory and hard drive space in the computer so you don't NEED to upgrade as ofton.....

cytek | December 9, 2011

Anyone of you guys can predict when Tesla will implement ultra/ super capacitor within its future battery pack? This would help with rapid fast recharging rate in a few minutes, rather than taking hours on its current battery pack available for upcoming Model-S. I would definitely be interested in having ultra cap on 2nd gen Model-S, but that may increase price of the next gen battery pack, while the 1st gen battery pack drops in price.

Mycroft | December 9, 2011

I think ultra-caps are minimum 5 years away and more likely at least 10 years.

Timo | December 9, 2011

Ultracaps are still in their infancy, energy densities less than 1/10 battery densities. They also don't help you at all for time used for recharging, because the bottleneck in that is not the battery, it is the charger. In order to charge 100kWh battery/ultracap in five minutes you need 1.2MW connection. 1200V@1000A. Not going to happen anytime soon.

My5bAby | December 9, 2011


I did not want to appear to be rambling, What you said is exactly the point. To make it crystal clear, what we mean is FORCED to upgrade because of planned or unintentional obsolescence.

However this is unlike buying a computer in 2010, it's more like buying the iPad in 2010, or the Sinclair ZX80 in 1980 neither of which were the first of their kind, but both of which changed the market, and the industry. I was fortunate enough to have purchased both. I have not felt regret as technology progressed. I am anxiously awaiting the Model S and I will also treasure this moment in history.

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jackhub | December 10, 2011

Interesting that Elon Musk's proposed PHD work at Stanford was to have been ultra capacitors. I suppose he is keeping in touch.

Brian H | December 11, 2011

A car that reads minds is likely to be a danger to everyone within several hundred yards ...

Mark K | December 12, 2011

Battery technology has historically moved slower than chipmaking knowhow.

Yet if you would have sat out the Personal Computer revolution because it was changing so quickly, you would have denied yourself the benefits during your life.

Count on the fact that batteries will get better and cheaper over then next several years. The seasoned view though is that a ready-for-prime-time advance that creates a large discontinuity is not considered imminent.

The main improvement will be in cost, but Tesla has shrunk the premium to about 1.3X that of a comparable ICE car (300 mile pack vs. BMW 5). When the spread is 2X or higher, it's smart to wait. But at a 30% premium, further offset by gas costs, we might as well enjoy the future early.

gjunky | December 12, 2011

@Brian: I agree (I know we are just joing here) but the biggest safety problem on the road right now I think is that people don't keep their mind on driving. Can't imagine what a mind controlled car would do.

As to battery technology, I am sure it will take at least 5-7 years before anything truly interesting will make it to a car production level. As long as we have a good warranty on the battery (already posted in that thread), we should be fine. With that timeline, we should see a new cheaper/high capacity battery just a few years before we actually need it.

ncn | December 18, 2011

Ultracapacitors are unlikely to reach commercial status as a battery replacement.

Of course, the people I know are working on something else which can be manufactured on existing equipment with existing materials, blows ordinary batteries out of the water in terms of energy density, appears to have better charge-discharge rates than most ordinary batteries, and loses charge when idle at a similar rate to ordinary batteries. But it's still not likely to be commercial for 5-10 years -- even though we could build a prototype next year -- as always, it takes a while and a lot of business stuff to go from prototype to mass-production commercial status.

My advice to the original poster: if you need to buy a new car in the next few years *anyway*, get the Tesla. I have postponed car replacement several years beyond when I normally would because I did not want to get a gasser, and I can't really wait any longer. This was pushing it, and repair/maintenance costs are mounting along with gas costs.

There is not going to be a massive discontinuity breakthrough *commercially available* within a year (even though there may be one *announced*).

If, on the other hand, you just got a new, fuel-efficient car in the last couple of years, wait (unless you're Jay Leno and you can just afford to buy extra cars whenever you feel like it, of course). When the time comes to replace it, battery tech will be much better. And Google may have perfected self-driving cars by then, too. ;-)