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Tesla gets Chinese approval to use lithium-iron batteries in the Model 3

The new Model 3 would be heavier, likely cheaper and for the Chinese market only.

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2018 Tesla Model 3 Performance

China may be in for a cheaper Model 3, but there will be some sacrifices.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Lithium-ion batteries are currently the most energy-dense batteries that we have, but they have their downsides. They're expensive, for one, and they also use cobalt, which is a mineral that is rapidly becoming more geopolitically complex and expensive to procure.

Where does that leave a company like Tesla that consumes vast amounts of battery cells every year, with plans to increase that even further? Well, according to a report published on Thursday by Electrek, it means that Tesla is likely going to make a switch to a different type of battery in some of its Chinese-built vehicles. Specifically, Tesla's Shanghai-based Gigafactory recently got approval from the Chinese government to produce a new version of the Model 3 that uses the much cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate battery chemistry. This is primarily because they don't use cobalt

Why don't more cars use lithium-iron-phosphate? Well, it's less energy-dense than lithium-ion, so using that chemistry means that a vehicle with the same number of cells would have less range -- usually. The word 'round the campfire is that Chinese battery producer CATL (rumored to be Tesla's Chinese battery partner) has figured out a way to increase the density of lithium-iron-phosphate cells, which would help close the gap with more traditional lithium-ion cells.

Some vehicles already use this chemistry, though most are Chinese-market only. The Wheego (it looked like a bootleg Smart ForTwo, remember?) was briefly imported to the US and was an exception to that rule.

Tesla's filing with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology also states that the new, lithium-iron-phosphate-equipped Model 3 will be heavier than its standard counterpart by around 220 pounds.

Tesla didn't immediately respond to Roadshow's request for comment.

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