Tesla is developing a new casting process aimed at essentially creating the entire undercarriage of their vehicles in a single piece, using giant presses. This innovation is expected to significantly reduce production costs, allowing Tesla to offer an electric vehicle with a starting price of $25,000. If successful, Tesla could potentially introduce a new car model every two years or even less.
In the case of the Model Y, Tesla currently manufactures subframes using the Gigacasting process, where subframes are composed of a single aluminum piece made through casting. Now, the company is looking to take the next step by producing the entire undercarriage as a single piece, reducing complexity and costs further by employing even larger presses. For comparison, the equivalent section of a traditional car consists of around 400 pieces.
One drawback of casting large parts is that making changes to the testing mold can be incredibly expensive. Minor alterations are estimated to cost at least $100,000, while major ones could range from $1.5 million to $4 million. Given that multiple changes are typically needed for proper design, substantial investments are required before production even begins.
However, Tesla has found a solution by partnering with ExOne, a Desktop Metal company, which uses sand to 3D print molds. Using sand-based molds is likely to cost around 3% of the total creation cost of a traditional mold, even with multiple modifications. This method could also speed up the process, reducing the time required to create molds from six months or a year to just two months.
Tesla aims to create a lightweight undercarriage to reduce weight and save costs while providing crash safety. The only way to create these undercuts is by using compact sand cores, with the sand being removed after the casting process.
As impressive as this process sounds, there are several disadvantages. Casting large parts requires very powerful presses, or Tesla could follow a slower approach with less powerful presses to create higher-quality castings, but at a slower pace.
Another significant drawback of casting the entire undercarriage in a single piece is that it essentially makes the car unrepairable if it’s involved in a collision. There is also the risk of metal fractures, a problem Tesla previously claimed to have solved by creating a highly specialized aluminum alloy that wouldn’t encounter this issue. However, recent reports indicate that a Model S owner found the front suspension subframe of his car to be cracked.
Nevertheless, Tesla may adjust the alloy it plans to use for the undercarriage and, if successful, the results could be impressive. As for the $25,000 model, Tesla has hinted it will draw design inspiration from the Cybertruck but hasn’t provided further details.