Posted on December 18, 2014 by Matt Pressman
The “holy grail” for Tesla has been the promise of an all-electric vehicle for the masses. This vehicle, the Tesla Model 3, has a target price of $35,000 with a 200-mile range – therefore making a Tesla affordable to a much larger “mass” market segment. Along with battery cost reductions, it has been argued that a key factor to produce an affordable mass market all-electric vehicle is a breakthrough in battery technology which would increase vehicle range.
However, this week, there is exciting news that might help accelerate progress for Tesla and its Model 3. And, it has nothing to do with battery advances. It has to do with… aluminum. Huh? That’s right. Tesla is one of the few car companies that uses a (virtually) all-aluminum chassis in it’s construction of the Model S. The vast majority of car companies use steel. Steel is much heavier than aluminum and doesn’t have the strength and safety capabilities of aluminum.
According to Alcoa, Tesla’s aluminum supplier, “Aluminum reduces the overall weight of Model S to help maximize efficiency and range… aluminum is used to form the structural aspects of the car and the outer panels, doors, hoods and trunk. Practically all visible metal on Model S is aluminum.”
Above: a closer look at the aluminum-intensive underpinnings of the Tesla Model S
And, this week Alcoa announced a key breakthrough which could radically improve aluminum for automotive manufacturing purposes.
According to Design News, Alcoa’s new patented “Micromill” process will yield an alloy made for automotive applications which is 40% more formable and 30% stronger than the aluminum alloys being used in automotive applications today while also retaining the necessary surface quality for exterior panels. More formability means the material will be easier to shape into complex forms, such as fenders and inside door panels, usually manufactured in steel. More strength also means better resistance to dents and therefore thinner, lighter automotive sheet. Compared to high-strength steel, the new alloy is twice as formable and 30% lighter.
Less weight would result in increased vehicle range for Tesla. And, along with better performing materials, it’s also possible that the overall cost could be much lower if it can be produced faster, in less space, and with less energy as evidenced in this video below.