When it comes to winning the battery race, only one thing matters, says Jay Whitacre, a materials science researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s all cost,” he said by phone. “This is completely an economic battle. The innovation is doing this as cheaply as possible. It’s less about building the cell, and more about building the factories that make the batteries.”
It’s unlikely anything will shake up the market for at least five years, say battery researchers. New battery types take years to move from the lab to production, and there’s still room for improvement in lithium-ion cell design and manufacturing methods. Yet potentially cheaper designs such as “pouch cells” are already popular with rival EV makers. New battery factories larger than Tesla’s are breaking ground in Europe and Asia. Tesla’s clever engineering gives the carmaker an advantage over its rivals, for now. But change may arrive faster than many think.