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Tesla Should Be Worried About Toyota
Forget the 4680; this is the battery breakthrough we have been waiting for.
Toyota was once the face of sustainable transport. Back in 2008, Leonardo DiCaprio used a hybrid Toyota Prius to arrive at the Oscars, shocking the entertainment world and making environmentalism just a bit cooler. But since then, they have massively lagged behind. They avoided the EV revolution like the plague and reluctantly released their first proper EV, the bZ4X, last year, a full 10 years after Tesla’s industry-leading Model S. But, behind closed doors, Toyota has been working on a technology that could help them leapfrog the entire EV industry in one bound and put them ahead of even Tesla. This holy grail of EV technology is a 745-mile capable solid-state battery that can fully charge in 10 minutes and is twice as energy-dense as current cells! So, does this mean Toyota could be a Tesla killer?
Let’s start with what a solid-state battery is. The difference between our current cells and solid-state batteries is quite simple: current cells store their energy in liquid or paste-like electrolytes, whereas solid-state batteries use solid electrolytes, typically made of ceramics. This means they are far more energy-dense and lightweight, as solid electrolytes can contain more energy per volume. Solid electrolytes also tend to have lower resistance than liquid ones, leading to far faster peak charging speeds. Moreover, they also use far less material per kWh thanks to their density. They also use far less energy to manufacture, as no drying or curing has to take place to secure and bond the electrolyte, like with current cells. This means solid-state batteries have the potential to be far cheaper and more eco-friendly than present cells. The cherry on top of this battery cake is that they have the potential to resist the processes that cause battery degradation, meaning they could last far longer than current cells.
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So, why don’t we use solid-state batteries already?
Well, while they have been around for years, we haven’t yet figured out all the kinks with solid-state batteries. Using our current methods, they are extremely expensive to make, being up to 5 times more per kWh than current cells. We also haven’t figured out how to make them more robust, meaning many solid-state batteries have terrible performance when cold, and the ceramic electrolytes have a tendency to break, leading to short lifespans. That’s why, despite this technology existing for decades, you won’t find solid-state batteries in your phone, laptop or EV.
Now, you might think that Tesla is the most visionary automaker out there, capable of investing in projects that won’t pay off for decades to come. But Toyota might actually be more visionary, as they have been developing solid-state batteries since the 1990s and have racked up hundreds of patents pertaining to them. This means that they are miles ahead of anyone else regarding solid-state batteries. That isn’t just hyperbole, as a recent study into these patents found they give Toyota a significant advantage over its competitors.
These decades of doggedly developing solid-state batteries have now paid off, and Toyota has announced they have fixed many of the issues with solid-state batteries and will be bringing this revolutionary technology to market. But what is it like, how much will it cost, and when will it be available?
As I have stated before, the battery is capable of delivering 745 miles of range and charging in 10 minutes. Toyota has also said that the battery is half the size and weight of current batteries. This means that the battery will likely have a capacity of around 180 kWh (based on current 100 kWh EVs having around 400-mile range) whilst still being small and light enough to fit in a car a little bigger than a Tesla Model 3. Assuming the ten-minute charge time is for a 10% to 80% charge, we can also infer that it can charge at a rate of about 750 kW. That is a charge rate 3 times faster than anything Tesla currently has. Despite these sky-high specs, Toyota says they have found simpler, more streamlined ways to produce these cells, meaning they can make them at half the cost of other solid-state cells.
It is worth noting that the Tesla Cybertruck is reportedly going to ship with a 1MW charge rate. However, this seems to be limited to the long-range 200 kWh battery pack model (as this pack can reach higher voltages needed for such charge speeds without blowing the cells), and we have yet to see any proof that the final product will actually ship with this feature. Moreover, this battery pack is so large that it could never be fitted to a small or medium-sized vehicle. Considering many of the launch specs have already failed to make it to the production version, I, personally, remain sceptical that this will reach the market as promised.
But we shouldn’t have to wait all that long to see if Toyota’s claims about this battery are valid. Keiji Kaita, the president of Toyota’s research and development centre for carbon neutrality, told the Financial Times that they are already capable of producing this battery and plan to have it in their EV line-up as soon as 2027. So, we could see prototype EVs with this battery in the next few years.
Okay, so how much will it cost? Surely, such incredible specs will mean it can only be used in Toyota’s most expensive cars.
Well, potentially not. You see, lithium-ion battery prices have declined by 89% in the last 12 years, and according to various articles, solid-state batteries are expected to cost around $80 — $90 per kWh by 2030. If Toyota’s “half the price” claims are correct, they could sell this battery for a staggeringly low $40 per kWh a few years after it hits the market. That might seem like a fantasy, but if you go through Toyota’s patents, you can see they have everything in place to reach such a price. What’s more, like Tesla, they have a partnership with Panasonic, so scaling production of these cells quickly to meet market demand might not be a problem at all, keeping the battery price low, even from launch.
To give some perspective here, that means Toyota’s 745-mile battery could cost per kWh around a third of what lithium-ion batteries do today. That means that by 2030, Toyota could sell a Model 3 competitor that is lighter, faster charging with over double the range, and at a significantly lower price point.
All of this is utterly insane, but Toyota is already hinting at something better. They have leaked that their second-generation solid-state batteries will have a range of 932 miles! That is mind-blowing and well above anything Tesla is planning to offer.
You might think this range is unnecessary, but that isn’t the case. When towing, the range of an EV can more than half, and as more EVs go on the road, the more charging stations become clogged, causing queues for charging. Having an EV with such a massive range solves these two problems and makes Toyota’s battery a game changer for some users (like myself).
But speaking of Tesla, how does Toyota’s battery match up against the infamous 4680? Well, it is half as dense as Toyota’s, takes more than twice as long to charge, and offers only half the range whilst costing around $104 per kWh. These specs do make Tesla’s 4680 one of the best batteries on the market today, but Tesla is still struggling to produce enough of them and won’t likely reach full production for several years.
In short, Tesla doesn’t really have anything that can compete with Toyota’s solid-state technology.
So, does this mean Toyota will become a Tesla killer? Well, I think Tesla is now too big to be truly killed by a single competitor, so they aren’t going away any time soon. And, there are still plenty of questions around the Toyota battery, like, can they produce it at scale at such a low cost? What charging network can charge at these speeds? What cars will they put it in? What markets will they sell it in? So it is far from certain that Toyota will leapfrog Tesla, but at the very least, it seems the potential is very much there.
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