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Tesla Views 800V EV Platforms as a Cost Matter, But They Are Not (Only) About That

The latest Tesla Q1 2022 earnings call was a familiar collection of irrelevant questions and promises that neither Elon Musk nor his company manages to deliver when they pledge to, if ever. Every once in a while, the people in charge of these calls allow a crucial question to emerge. When asked about 800V systems, Elon Musk and Andrew Baglino said they are about cost, which is miles away from their true benefits.
Elon Musk gave an excuse not to use 800V system in Tesla EVs and it was not convincing 6 photos
Photo: Porsche/National Geographic/edited by autoevolution
Elon MuskElon MuskElon MuskElon MuskElon Musk gave an excuse not to use 800V system in Tesla EVs and it was not convincing
According to Musk and his senior vice president for powertrain and energy engineering, changing Tesla’s products to 800V from the current 400V would bring an advantage of less than $100 per vehicle, which would make it a useless change. There is not a single moment in which they address what everyone adopting these higher-voltage systems claims to make them the ideal choice.

Let’s suppose the estimate Musk and Baglino present is correct. Dismissing the $100 saving per car as not worth it is a financial mistake. Tesla produced 305,407 new vehicles in Q1 2022 alone. Saving $100 per car, Tesla would have increased profits by more than $30.54 million in a single quarter just with this change. In one year, that would represent $122 million.

Elon Musk again said at the earnings call that Tesla would one day sell 20 million EVs per year. Supposing that was even possible when neither Toyota nor Volkswagen sells more than 10 million cars per year, Tesla would save $2 billion if all of them had 800V systems. If Musk is serious about that promise, dodging 800V systems is a lousy decision.

A little further in the discussion, the Tesla CEO said it would only make sense to have an 800V system in the company’s cars for “a very big vehicle volume.” In his words, this is why they are considering giving the Cybertruck and the Semi the higher-voltage system. It also does not make sense.

The Cybertruck may eventually have good sales volumes, but the Semi never will. It is an expensive and massive vehicle with limited demand. Even the Cybertruck will not have the same sales volumes as a Model 3 or a Model Y worldwide. The Ford F-150 only sells that well in the American market. However, compare the sales volume of pickup trucks with those of sedans or SUVs worldwide, and you’ll understand what we mean.

The main benefits 800V systems offer are faster charging times and less mass. In other words, EVs will be more convenient to replenish and will also be lighter, which immediately gives them more range. All of these gains make customers’ lives easier. If Tesla will have savings in doing so, it makes it a no-brainer. Yet…

The truth is that this excuse is not the right one. Tesla removes bolts to make its cars less expensive to build. It removed radars, lumbar adjustment, and even the mobile connectors to save some bucks on each vehicle it manufactures. If any change represented saving $100 per car, Tesla would adopt it. If it doesn’t, the reason is not that it does not save enough.

Both Musk and Baglino gave tips about why Tesla is not pursuing an 800V platform for its cars. The company bet on a lower voltage not only with its vehicles but also with its Supercharging network. If Tesla launched a single model with 800V, it would have to modify thousands of supercharging stalls for them to offer this EV the advantages the system would give it. Tesla’s main competitive advantage is a handicap in this case.

Changing all that now would represent a significant investment in times when Tesla has to expand this network for current owners and has other priorities. Overloaded Tesla Service Centers and a steep decline in service quality are pressing issues for the company. Quality problems and constant recalls are other points of attention Tesla cannot neglect. Yet, there was not a single question about those problems.

The worst part of this discussion about 800V systems is that it shows that Musk and Tesla have a common focus, and it is not on customers charging their cars faster or getting more range. The CEO and his executives seem more concerned about calculating the profits any measure will generate. And they are not doing it very well, as we just demonstrated.
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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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