There has been some additional news regarding the status of electric car manufacturer Tesla Motor’s rollout of its planned gigafactory to produce its own electric cells for use in both its automobiles as well as other rechargeable battery supply needs.
The Associated Press reports that Tesla has now received and sold about $20 million in transferable tax credits granted by the State of Nevada in conjunction with an overall $1.3 billion incentives package put in place to lure Tesla to selecting the northern Nevada site location. In its most recent progress report issued to the state, Tesla indicated that as of the first quarter of 2016, an average of 369 workers were employed at the plant thus far, while an average of 599 construction workers continue to work on plant construction and fit-out.
Reports point out that Tesla continues with a strategic supply agreement with Japan based battery supplier Panasonic. This supply agreement reportedly calls for the production of 1.8 billion battery cells through 2017, to support the output needs for both the Model S and the Model X. As of Q1, Panasonic had over 50 employees working at the Nevada battery plant.
The battery plant is being designed to eventually support the production needs of upwards of 500,000 electric powered vehicles per year. The design goal is that the plant would ultimately be able to produce batteries at 30 percent less cost, and when operational, would provide the capacity to be the single largest battery manufacturing volume plant in the world. The gigafactory is part of Elon Musk’s vision that batteries will not only be required in new automobiles, but in alternative energy applications as well. Hence, Tesla’s recent announcement of its intent to acquire SolarCity, the other component of this strategy, which includes supplying storage batteries to capture electricity captured by solar cells during the day, for use in other periods.
Meanwhile, a Bloomberg Businessweek published a report indicates that pressure to speed-up the original production ramp-up output of the gigafactory has taken on new significance because of the 330,000 preorders that have already been received for the new Model 3.
According to the report- “The accelerated schedule to supply the Model 3, the automaker’s first mass market car, doesn’t leave much time to create a complex supply chain that includes expanded mining and exploration operations.”
Further noted is that the Model 3 will feature a newer high-capacity battery with enhanced energy density to expand operating range. To keep the base price of the Model 3 at its targeted $35,000 range, Tesla engineers are working on different compositions of metal content within the rechargeable batteries. Tesla has reportedly hired specialized metals experts to travel the world to seek out and work with metals suppliers.
In a Supply Chain Matters commentary published in September of 2015, we highlighted the bold supply chain vertical integration strategy that resulted in the concept of the gigafactory, destined to be one of the largest battery manufacturing plants in the world. We further noted the strategic importance of plant’s location in Nevada, close to available suppliers of lithium metal.
At Tesla’s annual stockholders meeting in May, Founder and CEO Elon Musk indicated that lithium metal will only account for two percent of the total materials in the firm’s electric cells. Rather than compete with high-tech and consumer electronics producers across Asia and Korea that consume 85 percent of current lithium supply, the strategy appears to be substituting other metal compounds instead. Similar to what we noted last year, the Bloomberg report indicates that strategic supply agreements for lithium have been signed with Bacanora Minerals and Pure Energy Minerals, each to explore and mine the metal within sources close to the new factory. However, a specialized metals research firm predicts a global deficit of lithium supply this year, turning to slight surplus in 2017 and 2018.
Musk reportedly indicated to stockholders that a bigger determinant for the Model 3 is the cost of nickel in the form that Tesla engineers require. That metal is being substituted for cobalt. Global-wide supplies of nickel have increased during the past two years resulting in a 50 percent decrease in prices.
As with many value-chain strategies related to a firm’s product supply chain, the ability to support both short and long-term customer demand need often rests with key strategic supply agreements. In the case of Tesla, that equates to the critical supply of not just battery cells, but the metals and compounds that go into the production of such cells.
A glance at Tesla’s recently filed Form SD, Specialized Disclosure Report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) related to adherence to avoidance of conflict materials can give one a sense of how important metals supply is for Tesla. The Annex lists 41 different global suppliers of Tantalum, 51 suppliers of Tin and 35 suppliers of Tungsten. The scope is truly global in-nature.