Third-Generation Tesla Won’t Be Made of Aluminum, Says Tesla VP of Engineering

Tesla’s next-generation, affordable electric car — the one formerly known as the ‘Model E’ — won’t inherent the all-aluminum construction of its bigger brother, the Tesla Model S.

That’s according to Chris Porritt,  Tesla’s Vice President of Engineering, who says that Tesla’s third-generation plug-in will be manufactured using “appropriate materials” for its price point and market segment.

Tesla's current facility in Fremont, California is engineered towards the aluminum construction of the Model S and Model X.

Tesla’s current facility in Fremont, California is engineered towards the aluminum construction of the Model S and Model X.

Porritt, who left British prestige marque Aston Martin last year to take up a place at the Silicon Valley automaker,told AutoCar that cost concerns were paramount in finalising the design of Tesla’s first truly affordable electric car.

Talking of the Model S design and construction method, which makes extensive use of aluminum, Porritt said very little of existing Model S manufacturing processes will be used in the as-yet unnamed third-generation Tesla.

“I expect there will be very little carry-over. We’ve got to be cost-effective,” he said. We can’t use aluminium for all the [third-generation Tesla’s] components.”

While Porritt wouldn’t give hints as to what would be used instead, it’s likely that Tesla engineers are looking for a cost-effective solution which not only gives the all-new third-generation Tesla the strength it needs to uphold the company’s exemplary safety record but which is also light enough to ensure a decent range per charge.

For now, that likely discounts carbon-fibre reinforced plastics, since CFRP is still more expensive than aluminum.

Porritt: Gigafactory essential to success of third-generation car.

Porritt: Gigafactory essential to success of third-generation car.

What’s worth noting at this point is that a change in manufacturing materials will also mean that the third-generation Tesla will likely have its own production line alongside the Tesla Model S and Model X at Tesla’s Fremont facility, since we’d guess Tesla’s existing plant equipment is geared to working with aluminum, not steel or other materials.

In terms of price, Porritt reinforced Tesla’s target market for the third-generation car. Around twenty per cent smaller than the Tesla Model S, the third-generation car will do battle with cars like the Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series in the marketplace. As a consequence, he told AutoCar, the third-generation Tesla would have to be ‘realistically’ priced against both cars. By our calculations, that puts the price of the third-generation Tesla somewhere between $35,000 and $55,000. (£20,000 and £32,000 by today’s exchange rates.)

Whatever the price however, Porrit reiterated that the car would only be viable if Tesla is able to bring its Gigafactory online in time for the start of production in 2016. Without affordable lithium-ion battery cells, there’s no way the Californian automaker can bring the affordable sedan to market.

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