Elon Musk briefed a European battery conference on Tesla Inc.’s efforts to bring longer-range electric cars to market in the coming years, though he broke little new ground with regard to timing or other specifics.
Tesla will debut improved versions of existing models that approach 700 kilometers (435 miles) of range and has cars under development for the long term that could reach 1,000 kilometers, the chief executive officer said Tuesday. Musk has tweeted before that the revived Roadster model will cross that threshold, but the car is years behind schedule.
The factory Tesla is building near Berlin will make cars tailored for European buyers, including smaller models that can park in dense urban environments, Musk said. He hinted earlier this year that the company might engineer a hatchback from Germany.
“In Europe, it would make sense to do a compact car, perhaps a hatchback,” Musk said during the event hosted by Germany as part of its European Union Council presidency. “I’m sure there will be others as well.”
Musk, who overtook Bill Gates as the world’s second-richest person on Monday, headlined the event along with the likes of German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and his Italian counterpart Stefano Patuanelli. The big names reflect the amount of optimism in Europe about the region’s surge in electric-car demand.
China’s SVolt Energy Technology Co. said earlier this month it will join larger peer Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. in building a battery factory in Germany in the coming years, while Tesla cell supplier Panasonic Corp. may open one in Norway. Homegrown manufacturers including Swedish startup NorthVolt AB and a joint venture between French automaker PSA Group and energy giant Total SA also plan to challenge dominant Asian producers.
At Tesla’s own “Battery Day” in September, Musk laid out a plan to build a $25,000 car and cut battery costs in half over the next three years. But making a truly mass market electric car at a profit will require more and cheaper batteries than currently available. Most global automakers have shied away from producing their own battery cells, citing the high investment costs and their lack of expertise in an industry led by LG Chem Ltd., CATL and Panasonic.
Tesla and Musk have the means to finance a major battery push. The 49-year-old entrepreneur’s net worth soared to about $128 billion on Monday, bypassing Microsoft Corp.’s co-founder Gates, driven by yet another surge in Tesla’s share price.
The U.S. company is building an electric-car factory near Berlin that will be Tesla’s first in Europe. It’s slated to start production in the middle of next year and could eventually assemble as many as 500,000 cars annually. The project is an important expansion as it positions the company in the backyard of German auto giants Volkswagen AG, BMW AG and Daimler AG as they ramp up their own electric-car offerings.
Tesla is working on cheaper, longer-range and more environmentally friendly batteries than ones available today, Musk said during the conference. They’ll eventually be made at the company’s German plant.
“We’ve made it now at a benchtop level,” Musk said of battery cells Tesla has been working on in California. “We’re aiming soon to have it done at a pilot-plant level, and then the intent for the Berlin-Brandenburg plant would be to have it done at scale.”