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Tesla Motors may make its own batteries

PALO ALTO — Tesla Motors (TSLA) can’t build cars fast enough to meet growing consumer demand.

The problem? Not enough of the lithium-ion batteries that power its all-electric vehicles.

So CEO Elon Musk, who always thinks big, is talking with growing urgency about the need to build a “giga factory” to ensure a steady supply of battery cells for the Model S, the forthcoming Model X SUV and the $35,000 “Gen III,” currently aimed to hit the market in 2017. Tesla has ambitions to eventually manufacture 500,000 cars a year at its Fremont factory, and Musk told analysts earlier this month he’s envisioning a “really giant facility,” something “comparable to all lithium-ion production in the world in one factory.”

“The main constraint on our production is really the cells,” Musk explained. “We are not quite ready to make a big announcement on the cell and battery giga factory, but we are exploring a lot of these options right now.”

Phil Gow, a battery engineer who used to work for Coda Automotive, said a giant battery factory would come at enormous cost, especially if built in North America, which Musk said is likely.

“Battery plants on the scale Elon is talking about are billion dollar investments,” he said. “But it seems that if Elon wants to find a way to do something technical, he does it.”

Each Model S sedan contains more than 7,000 lithium-ion battery cells, which Tesla gets from Panasonic. While the battery cells are similar to those used in laptops and game consoles, Tesla’s are specifically designed for electric vehicles and were jointly developed by Tesla and Panasonic.
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