The comments were made at the European Conference on Batteries, which was held online.
They follow the company’s much-trumpeted ‘battery day’ in September, which failed to excite investors but revealed how Tesla’s new larger cylindrical ‘4680’ battery cells will provide five times more energy, six times more power and far greater driving range, with initial production of 10 gigawatts of batteries possible within a year and full production about three years away.
Asked about his thoughts on the company’s focus on battery innovation at the conference, Musk said: “As far as range is concerned, I think we’ve shown that the range can be very long.
“In fact, we could make it even longer than it is today. But our longest range vehicles have a range of over 600km and we could actually do more than that, and you’ll see some improved versions of our vehicles come out with over 600km range, starting to approach 700km.”
He added that Tesla even has some batteries “under development long term that can do 1,000 kilometres”.
The South African-born entrepreneur, who this week became the second richest person on the planet after a 500% rise in the Tesla stock price so far in 2020, said battery costs was the main handbrake on making electric cars more widely available while emphasising that scaling up production and safety remained “very difficult”.
Using internal development and incorporating the acquisitions Tesla has made in the field of battery development, such as Maxwell and Hibar, the prospective ‘gigafactory’ in the Berlin Brandenberg area will focus on driving a low cost per kilowatt-hour at scale, which he said “comes with a lot of design challenges”.
“What we see is really the fundamental impediment to progress with batteries is the cost,” Musk said, reiterating a point he has stressed before.
“If you’ve got range, if you’ve got rapid recharge, and then all of those can be achieved and a high calendar and high cycle life, your batteries can last like 15 years – which we believe ours currently can – then what it comes down to most of all is improving the cost so that the affordability of batteries, of battery-powered cars – electric vehicles – is improved, so that everyone can afford to buy an electric car.”
He said the long-term goal would be to try to get to a cost per kilowatt-hour of long-range battery cells of “around 50 cents or 55 cents”, which as he was speaking at 2am local time, was understood to be a slip of the tongue of the more likely US$50 or US$55 per kWh.
“There’s quite a bit more work in building the machine that builds the machine than in the cell itself. One needs to design the cell in the right way and then the very difficult part — and I can’t emphasize this enough — the very difficult part is then scaling up that production and actually achieving extremely high reliability and safety with the cells.”
Tesla shares were heading for a lower start at US$546.55 in pre-market trading on Wednesday.