Tesla Gigafactory VP opens up about battery production

“It’s big,” says every journalist who has visited Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory (and more than a few who haven’t). “It’s a big place. Really big.”

Above: Model 3, Model X, and Model S parked outside the Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada (Image: Motor Trend)

“How big is it?” shouts the audience in unison.

Well, it’s currently a 1.9-million-square-foot building with 5.3 million square feet of operating space on three floors. And so far, it’s only 30% complete. When it reaches its full size, it will have the largest footprint of any building in the world. Tech journalist Larry Magid recently visited, and assumed that a promised tour of the outside would be on foot. Hardly. “I was driven around in a van, and even that took a while,” says he.

Mr. Magid did much more than marvel at the Gigafactory’s size. He scored an interview with Tesla VP of Operations Chris Lister, which you can listen to below or on Magid's Larry’s World blog (Magid also did a write-up in the Mercury News).

Above: Magid's interview with Tesla's VP of Operatons at the Tesla Gigafactory (Source: CBS News Radio via Larry’s World)

At the Gigafactory, Tesla and its partner Panasonic work together to make battery packs for Model 3, as well as for the Powerwall and Powerpack stationary storage products. Panasonic makes the cells - cylinders about the size of AA batteries, unceremoniously dubbed “2170 cells” because they measure 21 mm in diameter and 70 mm in length. Tesla assembles the cells into long strings it calls bandoliers, assembles these into modules, and assembles the modules into finished packs. Each pack contains 3,500-4,500 cells, depending on the vehicle variant it’s destined for. Cooling tubes transport coolant throughout the pack to keep the cells within the optimum temperature range. The finished battery packs are transported by trucks (including a few Tesla Semis) to Tesla’s Fremont factory, where each one fulfills its destiny as the heart of a new electric vehicle.

Many consumers are skeptical about the longevity of EV batteries - they know from experience that cell phone batteries tend to wear out after a few years. However, Tesla batteries are built to last. Lister says Tesla has tested battery packs that have gone 100,000 miles with minimal capacity loss.

Above: Inside the lobby of Tesla's Gigafactory 1 (Image: Motor Trend)

Tesla also builds the drive unit for Model 3, which integrates the vehicle’s motor and inverter, and is usually described as the size of a large watermelon, here at the Gig.

Tesla has around 7,000 employees (95% of them Nevadans) at the Gigafactory, and Panasonic another 5,000 or so.

Why the massive scale? As Lister reminds Magid, Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable energy and transport system. That will require an exponential increase in global battery production, and Tesla is leading the way. The Gigafactory was designed on a gigantic scale in order to accommodate future battery demand (Elon Musk has said that, to support an all-electric transport system, several Gigafactories will be needed around the world). As the volume of battery production rises, economies of scale will allow Tesla to offer ever-more-affordable vehicles.


Written by: Charles Morris; Sources: Larry’s WorldMercury NewsCBS News Radio