GE's New Battery Research Could Drive Tesla Farther

GE's New Battery Research Could Drive Tesla Farther

Jolanda | 28 août 2013

Yeah, more tech coming in a few years....

We see a lot of these announcements, but no real new products. So, if you don't mind I will wait for a real product from Tesla.

JZ13 | 28 août 2013

Actually, this is potentially very bad news for TSLA shareholders. If GE actually can produce this within a few years then EVERY automaker can replicate what Tesla has done. One of TSLA's biggest competitive advantages is that they have a technological lead over everyone else with battery range and cost. This news makes me uncomfortable.

Eletrek | 28 août 2013

@JZ13 - I understand what your saying but disagree as lithium ion batteries are available now to anyone that wants to buy them. It isn't the lithium battery itself that is special. What is special and patented is how Tesla puts them together, monitors them, charges them, etc. that make Tesla's technology special.

NomoDinos | 28 août 2013

JZ - in the near future (next few years), I think this will still be beneficial for TSLA. It would ramp up production, and no one else will have a ready design, whereas Tesla can just plug and play.

JZ13 | 28 août 2013

TSLA's future prospects for massive growth rested on the idea that their product was better than what the other guys could produce. Note I said "massive" growth. I was hoping that Tesla would keep a tech delta ahead of the other guys for the next 5 - 10 years. If this GE news ends up being true and if they are able to produce this battery in mass quantity in 4 years or so then that eliminates one of Tesla's biggest competitive advantages. The big boys can design a car within a few years using the GE battery very easily. Now they have a car on the road using the same designs as the Model S and will probably be price competitive.

I know that this speeds up Tesla's sales if the battery comes to fruition and that's great. But disruptive forces come from the company that has the best technology and if GE steals that mantle from Tesla then it greatly reduces Tesla's future growth prospects. It moves Tesla from being "best of class by a wide margin" to just merely "a peer of BMW with a great reputation as an electric car pioneer". Tesla would have the same range and cost as every other electric car out there.

And what impact would this have on the Supercharger network? This was one of the competitive advantages I was hanging my hat on. Will they be necessary with this new battery?

If GE actually pulls this off, I know Tesla will still have some competitive advantages: 1) Their brand name will still be top of class as being the electric car pioneer; 2) They will still be able to sell cars at retail vs. wholesale which makes their cars more profitable; 3) No legacy costs.

I'm not saying this is doom for Tesla. All I'm saying is this takes their astronomical growth prospects and greatly reduces them to very nice growth prospects. Maybe Tesla is working on a technology that will be better than what GE is coming up with? Maybe GE really can't pull this off? I don't know, but there is a lot of air being released from my balloon.

mdemetri | 28 août 2013

From the article: "The DOE wants a battery that can power a car for 240 miles; we think we can exceed that," said GE's Grigorii Soloveichik, the project leader, in a statement."

HaHa!!!! Tesla already does that in its current cars and has a 500 mile battery waiting in the wings.

No worries here, Tesla is miles (of electrons) ahead and I don't see GE or anyone else catching up anytime soon.

JZ13 | 28 août 2013

mdemetri - Tesla has better range because they use much bigger battery packs than the other guys. If GE truly has a battery that will push range 3x as stated, then that could mean a battery pack of Tesla's size could go 750 miles and would be available for every auto manufacturer to purchase.

jandkw | 28 août 2013

Competition is always good for consumers. I don't think Tesla is afraid of competition like this at all and can push them to develop more affordable next generation battery pack. Who knows, this GE battery (if it becomes fruition) may be able to use in the GenIII model. From shareholder standpoint, if Tesla can produce better value products, I believe customers will buy and the stock can stay at the high level.

phat78boy | 28 août 2013

Its not just their battery that made me want a Tesla. Its their model. From sales, to purchase and design, to delivery, and finally service. Tesla is miles ahead of other manufacturers and for them to change would take a decade or more. Thats if they even "see" the problem, which I don't believe they do.

JZ13 | 28 août 2013

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Tesla won't continue to grow. I believe they will grow into a much larger company and that the stock will continue to appreciate. What I'm saying is that they won't grow "astronomically" with a product that is markedly better than the competition. Now, if GE pulls this off, they have to grow more moderately with a product that may or may not be slightly better than the competition. What I'm disappointed in is lowering my expectations for Tesla's future growth from astronomical potential to merely very nice potential.

carlk | 28 août 2013

@JZ13 On the contrary any new technology that will hasten the conversion from ICE to EV is a good news to Tesla. Tesla will continue to get a good portion of the EV pie but the pie will just get much larger. It's a bad news for oil companies and ICE car companies that are slow to convert.

JZ13 | 28 août 2013

@carlk - project out 5 - 10 years from now when GenIII is 1 option for consumers to buy. In a world with lithium ion BEV's Tesla cars probably go furhter for less $ than any of their competitors. So consumers will automatically choose the best option to buy - Tesla. AND/OR the other guys may have to buy Tesla's drivetrain so they have a comparable product to offer consumers. In this case Tesla has market dominance.

Now, in this same scenario with a GE battery that is in all BEV's including Tesla's, Tesla no longer has a major advantage in cost and range. Yes some of us will still prefer Tesla but if the product is not markedly better than BMW, Mercy, etc. then the majority of consumers will no longer have a compulsion to choose Tesla. Yes Tesla sells a lot of cars, but they do not have market dominance.

mal42north | 28 août 2013

No worries, everyone including Tesla is banking on battery technology improving. By the way the video seems to show a standard zinc-carbon cell, which isn't even a flow battery.

Sudre_ | 28 août 2013

This actually sounds really cool if it works out. I am sure Tesla is looking for better, cheaper, smaller batteries just like everyone else. Remember Tesla is still the highest rated car according to Consumer Reports and the Safest car ever made.

ian | 28 août 2013

@JZ13 - What's keeping Tesla from using this battery too? That's the beauty of Tesla's design, they're not wedded to a specific type of battery. If this technology is viable they can make it fit their form factor and Voila! it fits in their cars.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Elon has always said his goal is hasten the advent of EV's. He welcomes the competition.

I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned but I lost a lot of respect for the author of that article when he cited Boeing's Li-ion batteries as being "in the engines". They weren't any where near the engines!


JZ13 | 28 août 2013

@goneskiian - That's my point. Tesla will have to use the GE battery. They will no longer have a performance advantage over the competition.

ian | 28 août 2013

Gotcha. Sorry I missed that point in my quick reading.

They won't have a range advantage but I still believe the Supercharging network will be an advantage because it will take a lot of juice to fill those high capacity batteries.

I guess Tesla will have to continue making great cars, which was their goal to begin with. Wasn't it? ;-)

moorelin | 28 août 2013

@JZ13 - GE is definitely not the only game in town:

Large advances are certainly coming, although practicality in the automotive setting will be a massive issue. Do you think that Tesla (and its partners) are not paying attention to this?

moorelin | 28 août 2013

"ARPA-E Funds 22 Revolutionary Storage Projects - New $36 million "RANGE" program seeks to develop innovative electric vehicle battery chemistries, architectures, and designs."

shop | 28 août 2013

Did you catch this: "Recharging GE's proposed batteries would "occur in electrochemical cells separated from energy storing tanks, which makes them safer," according to the research team."

Ie. they cannot be recharged in the car, and would need battery swap. Not a direct competitor to Tesla. And saying they want to hit 240 mile range is pretty laughable.

Kleist | 28 août 2013

"These batteries are based on fluid electrolytes. They can therefore be recharged at the gas station in a few minutes – the discharged electrolyte is simply pumped out and replaced with recharged fluid. The pumped-off electrolyte can be recharged at the gas station, for example, using a wind turbine or solar plant."

We get our gas station back! Clean windshield again.

Brian H | 28 août 2013

Still stuck in competition mode, huh? If 300-mile EVs became as common as carrots, Elon would breathe a huge sigh of relief, sell off TM to anyone who wanted it, and get on with making mankind a multi-planet species.

bigbit | 28 août 2013

There is a reason never anounces their next model in advance.
It might reduce sales now! SO of a competitor anounces a dat better product, it just might be TO get people thinking. I'll just wait for that car then...
So maybe this is. Just TO fustrate Tesla sales?

JAFIC | 29 août 2013

All according to Elon's plan ..."In the near future, we will see battery improvements and at the same time, reduced cost"

bent | 29 août 2013

The "competition" has always been able to get the jump on Tesla, when they don't do it it's because there is no actual competition. There's thousands of engineers in legacy auto companies, and they could easily hire a hundred more just for a throw-away electrical engineering project aimed at bypassing Tesla, but they are never going to do so. A better battery from GE isn't going to change this.

Tesla's "competition" will come online when the first big ICE manufacturer goes bankrupt due to sales lost to Tesla. Then there will be such a scramble as has never been seen before in the auto industry, and half of them will come begging to Tesla to license their technology. The other half you will always be able to read about in history books.

… and I don't even own stock in Tesla! :D

Flaninacupboard | 29 août 2013

The GE tech means the Leaf goes from 24kwh to 72kwh (giving a range of about 225), but you have to pay to refill your electrolyte at an electrolyte station and you don't have a frunk. But Nissan get to keep their recycled Juke platform so I can see them going for it.

But, prototype in one year, production version finalised two years after that, three years of vehicle validation after that. With 8% compound cell energy density increases the MS could have a 120kwh pack - 374 miles on EPA, plus all the superchargers that have been rolled out. Someone needs to start thinking about rolling out electrolyte charging stations. I don't think it will happen outside of maybe some demo vehicles.

Mark K | 29 août 2013

1. Better batteries will inexorably arrive over the next several years. It's a virtual certainty, and the Model E will use them. But they will be improvements of today's technologies.

2. The GE project is not a fundamental breakthrough. Rechargeable fuel-cell-like, liquid electrolyte designs have been around for a while. The flow battery is one variant with several groups researching it. GE's release is more about press and less about news.

3. Every year, there are many announcements about battery advances. The majority are not meaningful, and vast majority will never make it to mass production. It is very, very hard to turn new science into reliable production. When it happens, it's awesome, but real advances are very rare.

4. When a truly material battery advance is ready for prime time, there is currently exactly one company with the brains and drive to deploy it first, and do it right. That would be Tesla Motors.

Because Tesla is unusually skilled at deign optimization, it is quite improbable that they'd be late to the party as the technological shifts.

The net effect of a materially disruptive battery advance would be to advantage TM more than its peers.

ddruz | 29 août 2013

@Mark K - Your posts are always so well thought out and knowledgeable. Thank you for taking the time to read these forums and share your wisdom.

Zebuf | 29 août 2013

I agree with Mark K on this. There is a whole array of new technologies in the works. From Li-Ion structurally modified to improve recharging speeds, fluid electrolytes, H-cell technology, up to different super-capacitors, incl. Graphene and its derivates.

Some of these will turn into viable products, all I know is that batteries will become lighter, more powerful and more easy to charge.

Tesla definitely has the potential to utilise any upcoming tech!

Imagine constructing a car using graphene, so the car is its own battery ;-) Superstrong, superlight with lots of range, and a recharge-time only limited by the strenght of you powersource!
- designed by Tesla, of course...

ItsNotAboutTheMoney | 29 août 2013

@Mark K

No. Disruptive advanced battery tech doesn't help Tesla.

A significant part of Tesla's advantage is having taken a different path in batteries resulting in the ability to leverage the cheapest, most available format.

They'd likely have a head start on it, but the ability other manufacturers already have to scale up would allow them to catch up easily.

Tesla's saving grace would be the use of an advanced induction motor, which helps reduce their exposure to commodity supply constraints, but large auto manufacturers would be able to handle those constraints better and would also have an opportunity to shift.

For Tesla the best thing is battery evolution, not revolution. Elon Musk might think a little differently.

bent | 29 août 2013

"A significant part of Tesla's advantage is having taken a different path in batteries resulting in the ability to leverage the cheapest, most available format."

The main Tesla advantage is that no one else is even trying and in fact everyone else is deliberately trying not to succeed.

If Nissan suddenly got their hands on a 3x capacity battery I would expect them not to triple the range of the Leaf, but instead to cut the weight/volume of their battery pack to one third of today.

None of the incumbents in the car industry can afford to build a proper EV that can compete with their ICE cars on their own terms, because doing so would immediately and very visibly obsolete 90% of their invested capital. It would be corporate suicide to do this and so they won't.

A sudden battery revolution would therefore mostly favour Tesla, and any other start-up EV makers that are free to innovate instead of trying to defend existing ICE market share.

shop | 29 août 2013

+1 bent. The only other car company that is even trying in the EV space in Nissan. And their Leaf is just so-so OK today. I actually expect Nissan and Tesla to be more direct competitor in 3-4 years, and that isn't a bad thing. It'll help both companies be better.

Tom A | 29 août 2013

@Kleist: +10

There is nothing simpler, or more efficient and elegant, than to plug in at home.

Well...yes there is - wirelessly charging at home!

ev4life | 29 août 2013

As far as the original post goes, this is clearly press release trolling at it's finest. There is no way this technology is close to production and best case a year from an actual working prototype.

There are probably a dozen or more next gen battery technologies under serious funding and development many of them in some form or another trying to advance Lithium Ion capacity and storage.

Something will eventually surface to improve what we have today and as long as people can plug in at home and have a high current DC fast charge on the road then I think it fit's exceptionally well into Tesla's long term strategy. | 29 août 2013

While Tesla is far ahead in the battery, it's only one of many new disruptive technologies. The Tesla motor is far better than anyone's motor and they created it. How about safety, user-interface, styling, handling, etc, etc. So what if a Leaf gets twice the range - it's still a sub-compact car nothing like the MS.

Car companies have been creating cars for 100 years, and they are so intrenched, I don't see any competition on the horizon, especially if they can make lots of money selling the same old stuff. Even if Tesla were selling ten times the cars each year, it's a drop in the bucket and the competitors will remain clueless.

My last thought is anyone that has a new battery technology will be at Tesla's door first, since Tesla is the largest consumer of automotive batteries in the world by a huge margin.

Mark K | 29 août 2013

For the current generation, Tesla did not reinvent battery cell technology, But they did far smarter and better things with it. No one prevented the other automakers from doing this. Rather, it is their own conflicted decisions that retards their results.

However the technology road may turn, the guys with the will and skill always go faster and get farther.

Right now, in the auto industry, that company is Tesla.

Brian H | 29 août 2013

As Julian Cox once wrote, there is no viable non-suicidal path for the majors to get to serious EV production. It heavily drains from existing resources, and then cannibalizes existing product lines. To make it work, they would have to spring a superior viable product on the market without notice, and grab market share from the other majors.

Simultaneously, they would have to solve the charging/range problem, and multiply the supply of batteries. All in one, big surprise initiative.

So that's how "easy" it is.

Doug H | 29 août 2013

Saying Tesla's battery is its only competitive advantage is like saying the Internal Combustion Engine is Porche's only claim to fame. People don't buy engines, electric motors or batteries, people buy cars. And right now, the Model S is a dream of a car to drive.

Its handling, simple interior design, a complement of luxury and sporty appointments, and forward thinking body style all come together to create excitement over the best car ever. And, by the way, Tesla Motors has also created a 5-Star+ car in terms of safety. They also created a business model that allows them to sell the car and give away power to drive it long distances.

Replace the battery. Who cares. Give me the look, the handling, the safety, and the feel of driving the Model S. I think that those things are going to be hard to beat.

jq5073 | 29 août 2013

@Doug is exactly right. This technology was all around with the GM EV1. The "secret" ingredient Tesla added was shooting for the right target market. Shooting for the $120k luxury sports coup (Roadster) and then the $100k luxury sedan allowed them to push for significantly higher margins and fund further development.

There's not enough margin in the $30k market for them to exist for 10 yrs and prove out the technology. Too many people in that market buy for utility and not style / luxury / uniqueness / performance. Too many people in that market are bandwagon folks. They want the sure bet. Their car payment is a large proportion of their monthly income and they can't afford to place a bet on "unproven" technology.

The battery is nothing different than laptops have had for a decade and a half. The motor is nothing different than the induction motor we've had for a century. The technology isn't the risk. It's something any decent electrical engineer could work out on paper over lunch in terms of efficiencies, known battery tech, and known motors.

The risk (and make no mistake, there was significant risk here 10 yrs ago) was that you make super-sexy car... with the best technology... that outperforms anything else in its class... dump millions into the concept, engineering, and manufacturing capability... and no one likes the car. So they had to do EVERYTHING right. Best styling. Supercharger network. Charging options. Functionality. Interface. Performance. Safety. They left the $30k market on the table, initially, and went for broke with the people that were willing to drop $100k on a car.

Kleist | 29 août 2013

And there Douglas H Elon got you on the hook, you swallowed the bait.
Telsa is not about cars... it is sustainable transportation. Electricity is the most versatile source of energy, but what is missing is storage and Tesla is laser focussed on that aspect. Cars are a trillion dollar business, electricity is a tens of trillion business. My MS uses the about same amount of electricity as my house ( 6 MWh/year )... so if every house has an electric car the trillions of electic business would double. To profit you have to be involved in electricity generation and distribution (SolarCity) and - sustainable electricity is not available on demand - storage ( Tesla ). Storage is expensive today... how to get the scale up and cheaper? Earn the money with a desirable object: good looking, best performance, easiest to drive and maintain and safest car.
Traditional car companies are limited in their vision and need to compromise all the time. But once you realise that Elons vision is way beyond personal cars then it becomes clear why Tesla - we have a single shot at it - goes after these ridiculous goals and is succeeding.

JZ13 | 29 août 2013

Guys I have to respectfully disagree with you. Without a new GE battery, the other guys cannot match Tesla's battery range and cost. They can build an electric car every bit as safe, sexy and technologically advanced but can't match battery technology. Therefore they are selling an inferior product. However, if they can buy a GE battery that is better than Tesla's battery then they can make a car every bit as good if not better than the Tesla. Tesla will be forced to buy that same battery so they no longer have a better product. Don't fool yourselves into thinking the other guys can't take GE's battery, put it in the chasis and get a brilliant car out of it. In fact, all they have to do is retool their existing factories and they can kick out millions of them a lot quicker and easier than Tesla will be able to.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming doomsday for Tesla. I still think it's a great investment, but the upside is seriously diminished if this GE battery comes to fruition.

JZ13 | 29 août 2013

The Model S touchscreen is genius. But the other automakers can copy that just as quickly as Samsung copied the iphone. The biggest reason the MS is the safest car is the "battery in the chasis" design. They will copy that too.

And in case you think Silicon Valley will continue to leap ahead of the old guard - GE just formed an investment team to reside in Silicon Valley and invest into startups that will lead to great new products for them. The old GE went bankrupt. They have awakened smarter. They aren't as smart as Tesla now, but they are no longer ignoring the new guys and are trying to buy their way into Tesla's league.

The one thing they can't replicate right now is the battery. That's why GE's announcement bothers me so much. Again, this is all from the perspective of a TSLA shareholder who was hoping for Tesla to maintain their battery technology delta for years to come.

Kleist | 29 août 2013

What bothers you about the GE announcement? It is just a press release. Flow batteries are not new, best specific energy I have seen is up to the 100 Wh/kg range... Panasonic cells are 245 Wh/kg. Unless GE announces their battery is at or above 500 Wh/kg there is zero advantage in automotive applications.

justineet | 29 août 2013 are wrong on this one. As some have said the ICE manufacturers are not serious about electric cars so far. They have made a calculated decision it's more profitable to keep selling ICE cars than electric ones.

JZ13 | 29 août 2013

@kliest - What bothers me is that they claim their battery will increase range for electric cars by threefold. Therefore implying their battery is far superior to Teslas lithium-ion. And they claim they will have a prototype within one year. This was reported by a very legitimate publication. GE does not make outlandish claims.

@justineet - GM has formed a special committee to study Tesla. Tesla's recent run up in share price has caught their attention. They are just now understanding that BEV is the future. Right now they cannot compete with Teslas battery. However if GE is able to produce one within a few years then GM can make a competitive product to compete with Tesla. It will only take them two or three years to produce this car.

JZ13 | 29 août 2013

Correction on my claim about GE forming a Silicon Valley investment concern, I meant to say GM.

easydjr | 29 août 2013

It's not all about batteries. I'm sure Tesla has many patents around the drive train, recharging, coasting, interface, etc. Tesla benefits from battery chemistry advances, and they've been innovating for years on how to best bring it to market. You can't just flip a switch on battery chemistry, and bypass Tesla. That just silly. And there are many battery innovators out there. GE just has better PR. Tesla only benefits from battery advances.

When I drive my MS P85, it feel like automotive magic. I get in the car and it just goes, silently and smoothly. And faster than my neighbor's Corvette, or any Porsche. I LOVE this car. Only complaint after 7k miles is I have to windex my own windows because I never go to a gas station anymore.

Mark K | 30 août 2013

JZ13 - My bet is on performance rather than promises.

Tesla's achievements would be impressive even if it were Daimler or GM that had done them. Instead, it was a scrappy little upstart, which is all the more astounding.

Performance is the best predictor of the future here. Any quantum leap in batteries will be leveraged more effectively by the most potent competitor. Tesla was the smartest at building around today's available battery cell technology. There is no reason to presume they will get dumber about how to use next gen cells.

No one can even make a practical EV except Tesla right now. Once many automakers can match this and EVs are more commonplace, Tesla will be making cars that significantly raise the bar.

There will always be a premium segment to the auto market, and Tesla is well positioned to pursue it.

I'd say the future looks very bright indeed.

Doug H | 30 août 2013

If energy storage was the equalizer, why does any automaker emerge above the others. Just because they all have ICE engines doesn't mean that there is no competition. Some are better at sporty cars and make huge profit (Porsche), and some make leaps in efficiency and make profit from getting ahead in that area (Toyota).

Every automaker can have a 17" touch screen right now, but they don't. Every automaker could make their car bodies from aluminum, but few do.

Again, the total automobile experience will cause Tesla to maintain a competitive advantage. The old guard will first slap a battery under the existing cars to compete. That will offer no competition at all. At some point they will compete directly but I wouldn't be running scared because of a prototype for a battery that might be viable in a couple of years.

tes-s | 30 août 2013

Prototype in a year, production in 4 years?

Sounds like good timing to make it to market to replace my MS in 10 years.