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Musk was right… now make it happen

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 09:28 -- Gerry Woolf
Elon Musk

What’s your definition of good engineering? Mine would include making use of the stuff that’s already there, cannibalising (if necessary) existing kit to make what I need or want to try. That’s what I learned as a kid messing around with electronics half a century ago and I’m glad to say it's a philosophy that rings true with some of the best minds out there today.

When I met the battery team behind the Tesla, some years back, I was wowed by the fact that they had taken the same view, using what’s out there to make a product – the 18650 cell design. Because it was already there in large numbers, it had a good safety case and the computer industry has done much to cover the costs of performance enhancements.

But Tesla has stood alone in its thinking – not that that has done it any harm.

Now someone with considerably more battery kudos than myself – one Menahem Anderman, battery guru to the auto industry, has crunched the numbers – and what do you know?

Tesla has the patents, the know-how and the experience to build battery packs with very large numbers of cells and against all the so-called ‘sensible manufacturing thinking’, they do OK. And……

Mr Elon Musk and friends were on the right lines all along – if you are prepared to take the risk and build a stonking great lithium-ion plant and ramp up production over the next ten years, which they plan to do.

But what if a few other automakers got smart and decided to share Tesla’s battery vision?

Well the risk would be shared and costs reduced but the up-shot is affordable, pure electric cars with half decent range could be available almost tomorrow because they’d be using a common platform – not too different, conceptually, from the common IC platforms you see being used by GM and VW to name two, across their auto ranges.

Everything else is just styling and marketing.

Directing the auto industry to do something different is a tough game and only something as large as the European Union can do that from the outside. Musk could just be, from almost out of nowhere, as influential on automotive manufacture as Jobs was to the mobile phone market, because before the iPhone (and its imitators), mobile phones were rubbish.

If Musk is right, there will be plenty of winners, right across the battery industry. Buying Dr A’s report confirms the obvious, but your financial people ought to see the charts.

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