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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  • John Briggs

    Is there really something about an assembly plant that cares if the panels are steel or aluminum? The Prius has a mix of both.

    • Michael Thwaite

      They have giant presses tuned to stamping aluminium. I understand that it requires higher pressure and some over bending to get the right result. I imaging that they wouldn’t want to ‘waste’ that on simple steel parts. Besides, they need to get the volume up and sharing isn’t going to help.

      • John Briggs

        Ah, yes, it is nice when there is enough volume of sales that the dies do not need to be swapped out.nnI wonder if the issue of sharing of resources would be more related to the size different between the Model S and the Model E (whateveritscalled). Might be difficult to run two very different sized vehicles down the same line.

  • Michael Thwaite

    I’m a little surprised, I would have though that Aluminium could have been Tesla’s trademark. I wonder if we’ll see a heavy use of plastic with strategic and sparing use of very high grade steel & titanium where it’s needed.

  • u010eakujem

    Interesting… I’m guessing it’ll be boring old metal and a lot of plastic. Also, superbly written article as always.

  • Chris O

    “CFRP is still more expensive than aluminum”, really? Source please. I realize the “carbon” part in “carbon reinforced plastic” sounds expensive but the “plastic” part not so much of course.nnnI think the problem with traditional all carbon constructions is the laborious building methods involved. That may not apply at all to CFRP. In fact I read somewhere it actually cuts production time compared to steel.nnnWonder what Tesla and BMW discussed during their talk but my guess would be that CFRP was part of that discussion. My next guess is BMW said “no”.

    • CDspeed

      Your correct about carbon fiber construction versus CFRP, carbon fiber alone is very labor intensive, whereas CFRP was meant to be mass produced, and is therefor cheaper. I too thought of Tesla’s recent meeting with BMW, BMW would want to talk about electric drive technology, and Tesla had to have been interested in BMW’s CFRP.

  • I’m guessing there will still be some use of aluminum, just not a high percent-aluminum body like the S and X; particularly for outer panels. Given the broader target market audience, a more robust skin will ensure 3rd Gen (3G) holds up to everyday use and abuse. Perhaps we’ll see some innovative use of composite materials and alloys? After all keeping weight down makes it hard to use large amounts of steel in a 3G design.nnGiven the 3G will be see high volume production from day one, keeping part counts low will help speed production while simplifying the complexity of the design.

    • PaulScott58

      Good points. I’m curious how they’ll deal with the high safety standards inherent in the Model S and presumedly, the Model X? Material science advances rapidly, so maybe something new will be involved. nnnThe Model E will sell big regardless. The brand is hot and for good reason. Millions of people will be able to afford it.

  • vdiv

    If Tesla is going to use plastic for their mass market car then perhaps they should consider pricing it similarly to the Th!nk City or the Smart ForTwo ED 🙂

  • Jonathan Tracey

    I dont think your average driver really cares what its made of, if they need to reduce cost then one of two things have to happennnn1. the cost of the materials needs to come downn2. they need to use less costly materialsnnnSince ore prices for Aluminium are pretty high I think option 2 is the only way to hit a price point