Missing Link: Tesla, the drive turnaround and the legacy problem of the auto industry

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Until a few years ago, Tesla was not even seen as a serious competitor by the automotive industry, electric cars were considered a niche product, and the production capacities of the Californian start-up were puny. Even today, only every hundredth newly registered car in Germany is a Tesla (as of August), according to the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA). Only when Tesla achieved a weekly production capacity of 5,000 vehicles for the first time in 2018 did that begin to change.

What is missing: In the fast-paced world of technology, there is often the time to rearrange the many news and backgrounds. At the weekend we want to take it, follow the side paths away from the current, try different perspectives and make nuances audible.

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Production will start in Grünheide near Berlin in December of this year, Elon Musk announced at the Tesla festival last week. Up to 500,000 vehicles will roll off the production line near the capital Berlin, primarily of the Model Y type. That would be more than the entire stock of battery-electric vehicles in Germany (July 1, 2021: 439,000) and more than twice as much as the total annual production of all German manufacturers combined. The world’s largest battery factory is also planned there.

(Image: Tesla)

Let us remember: Until 2020, the belief in a slow replacement of the combustion engine was a widespread mantra in Germany. The diesel scandal seemed to be over and the coal compromise gave the dirtiest of all fossil energy forms the scandalously long period of time for their expiry, with which the German manufacturers of combustion engines could have lived well: 2038. The “drive turnaround”, i.e. the conversion of our current car-centered transport system battery drive, with otherwise unchanged general conditions, then came faster.

Ever stricter exhaust gas regulations from Brussels and political control in the direction of e-mobility on Germany’s most important export market, China, accelerated this process. Meanwhile, 2030 is considered to be the end of the combustion engine, some car companies have expressed themselves in this direction in the last few months, most recently even the traditional company Rolls Royce. And Tesla, experts largely agree, turned out to be a decisive accelerator – the estimates are between five and eight years.

Tesla’s role as a driving force behind the switch to electromobility is now acknowledged in this country, and Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess in particular never tires of praising Elon Musk and emphasizing that he wants to emulate Tesla. Just recently he said: “Grünheide will increase competition in Germany“At the same time, there is confidence in the industry that the hour has now struck for the large manufacturers with their experience in automotive engineering to tap into the battery-electric mass market.

But Tesla may not be satisfied with its role as the initiator of the switch to electric drive and its market niche. Because Tesla is a technological leader in all relevant areas related to the electric car, from battery efficiency to drive technology and from charging infrastructure to chip design and software.

One area where Tesla’s market leadership is undisputed is battery management. This becomes clear in the energy efficiency of the batteries, thanks to the world’s best temperature management, Tesla gets more energy and range (depending on the vehicle weight) out of its batteries.

model weight[kg] Energy efficiency [kWh/100 km] Weight-related energy efficiency [kWh/100 km]/ 100kg * t

Model 3 Standard Range

1733

14.9

8.6

Tesla Model S P90D

2357

20.0

8.5

Tesla Model X Performance

2668

23.6

8.8

Audi e-tron 55 quattro

2445

25.8

10.6

Mercedes EQC 400 AMG Line

2495

27.6

11.1

Jaguar I-Pace EV400 S AWD

2208

27.6

12.5

Polestar 2 Long Range Dual Motor

2123

29.2

13.8

VW ID 3

1781

20.0

11.2

Energy consumption table: Tesla is significantly more efficient than the competition

The US automotive expert Sandy Munro, whose company Munro & Associates advises the automotive industry on its electrical strategy, attests that Tesla has an average of five years ahead in all relevant technological areas. “Tesla’s greatest strengths are batteries, electric motors and electronics. Their electronics are maybe five to ten years ahead of everyone, their electric motors are lighter than everyone else’s.”

Sandy Munro On Tesla’s Astonishing Lead: ‘Lightyears Ahead’

Engineering guru Sandy Munro was not always that enthusiastic about Tesla’s performance, his criticism of Tesla bodies (“cobbled together patchwork quilt”) is legendary. In 2018, his company took a close look at a Tesla Model 3 and came to the conclusion that the rear section of the vehicle was wise “bad design, too many parts, poor manufacturing resulting in wasted profits” on.

But Tesla responded to the criticism. The world’s largest high-pressure aluminum die-casting machines, manufactured by the Italian company IDRA, have been in operation in Tesla’s California factory since summer 2020. The huge machines weigh 420 tons and generate a clamping force of 6000 tons. In the huge “gigapresses” the entire rear half of the car is now cast in one piece.

A single aluminum component has been created from 70 parts that were riveted, welded or glued together. According to experts, the Gigapress will save 300 assembly robots, reduce manufacturing costs by 40 percent and reduce the required factory space by 30 percent. Tesla has developed a special aluminum alloy that makes this possible.

The Gigapress is a key innovation in Elon Musk’s arsenal to drive down the Model Y’s cost and achieve production numbers aimed at significant market share. The world’s leading Italian manufacturer INDRA is convinced that sooner or later all manufacturers will adopt this technology, INDRA boss explains in an interview: “In August 2020, all skepticism in the foundry industry was gone when the IDRA Gigapress number 1 spat out the first functioning part . “

Even in the actual core area of ​​car manufacturing, Tesla is setting new standards. The Gigapress will also be used in Grünheide, and eight such machines are planned in the “floor plan”. The die-casting cycle lasts 90 seconds, theoretically producing 1.5 million Model Y vehicles per year.

So do other manufacturers have to follow suit? JP Morgan’s industry research is skeptical as to whether the big manufacturers will be able to reinvent their own production lines as radically as Tesla. Smaller EV startups and agile Chinese companies, on the other hand, will be more able to follow Tesla’s example.

The world’s largest aluminum die casting machines are used at Tesla

(Image: IDRA Group)

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