Tesla has proven itself as a leader in the electric vehicle world, but CEO Elon Musk is always looking for ways to improve his Tesla vehicles. However, the company has also come under scrutiny for a variety of issues with their cars and has had some unwanted media coverage.
Tesla leads the industry when it comes to having an impressive range for their electric vehicles on a single charge. However, there have been some issues with its batteries, Autopilot, and self-driving technology that may need improvement. Read on to discover what six improvements this company should make with their electric vehicles.
Why Tesla Needs to Improve
Tesla was definitely the innovator of electric vehicles, starting with its unique Roadster in 2008. This was when most other manufacturers were concentrating on manufacturing hybrid vehicles, not electric ones, and Tesla seemed ahead of its time. Since then, they have manufactured a much larger variety of electric vehicles than the competition.
For example, their batteries deliver more energy density than their competitors. This means Tesla continues to lead the industry in range, sometimes doubling some of its competitors, due to the materials used to improve energy density.
In 2020, Tesla was the highest performing automaker. This included sales growth, total return, and long-term shareholder use. Yet, with these evolutions and developments come risks. Tesla has come under scrutiny and scorn for its innovations and may need to make improvements on their electric vehicles as the competition closes in on them.
On one hand, Elon Musk is the master of using innovation capital from successful companies like Paypal and SpaceX to secure much-needed support from stakeholders for his future projects like his controversial “Cybertruck.”
Continue to Research Battery Risks
On one hand, taking risks is what has put Elon Musk’s Tesla brand above and beyond the rest when it comes to electric vehicles. For example, Tesla’s Long-Range Model S had touted a battery that could drive approximately 370 miles – from San Francisco to Los Angeles – on a single charge due to the innovations of the battery’s material.
At their best, competing vehicles from other manufacturers, like Nissan, Jaguar, and Chevrolet, only drive around 240 to 260 miles, while other manufacturer vehicles hardly even make 200 miles on a single charge. This comparison illustrates how Tesla continues to lead in the electric vehicle contest when it comes to battery range.
Tesla uses software that makes their batteries much more efficient and ditched numerous features that are more traditional in luxury vehicles for aerodynamics and have scrapped multi-gear transmissions for dual motors that are programmed to communicate fluctuating power ratios to both the front and rear wheels.
The problem is that Tesla’s batteries are denser, which has hurt the battery’s cycle life and may have caused spontaneous battery fires under investigation. If problems continue risking powerful range for shelf-life and combustion, Tesla may need to revise the materials used in their batteries. This may affect range but improve safety features.
Not the Only Manufacturer With Battery Issues
Is Tesla risking their battery possibly catching on fire and not having as long of a shelf life as other batteries? Maybe. It seems Tesla is winning the battery range race by sacrificing materials that could make them safer. However, they are not the only manufacturers that have had to look at improving the batteries in their electric vehicles:
- Nissan had to change the chemistry of the battery in the Leaf because it worsened in warmer climates.
- General Motors has been invested by the federal government for risks to the battery catching on fire in its Chevrolet Volt.
- Audi recalled the e-Tron SUV due to the risks of moisture seeping into battery packs and catching on fire due to a malfunction in a wiring harness.
Many of these manufacturers have improved the safety of their batteries. Tesla, on the other hand, continues to use distinctive battery chemistry of aluminum, the standard nickel, and cobalt. This is different from other manufacturers and has indeed led to higher-capacity battery chemistry. Yet, Tesla has two downsides that need to be addressed:
- A shorter cycle life for their batteries
- The risk of spontaneous fires
Other manufacturers are using manganese instead of Tesla’s choice of using aluminum. Manganese does have a lower storage capacity and less range than aluminum but has a possibly longer cycle life and less risk of spontaneous fires. Tesla may need to find a way to improve its batteries instead of accepting the tradeoff of its current battery.
This tradeoff is higher energy density and higher-capacity materials that make up the battery, like aluminum, that results in an increased range but also more heat being put out. Improving the battery means incorporating cooling and temperature-management systems that are more advanced to preserve the battery’s cycle life and prevent fires.
“Tabless” Battery Cells May Make Improvements
Tesla did unveil that they are developing what they call a “tabless” battery to further improve their electric vehicles’ power and range. They also said they will reduce the costs of this battery’s development in that it will be produced in-house. This should allow Tesla to sell vehicles with this new battery for the same price as gasoline vehicles.
This new tabless battery is supposed to lower Tesla’s cost per kilowatt-hour. In turn, this should also lower the price of the Tesla vehicles and make them that much more competitive with electric vehicles and even the lower-priced gasoline vehicles.
These batteries were first announced on Tesla’s “Battery Day” and have the tab removed that connects the cell and what it is powering. This change increases the energy capacity of Tesla batteries by five times and makes the batteries six times more powerful. They also have a 16 percent increase in range for Tesla vehicles using these batteries:
- 5 times more energy capacity
- 16 percent (or more) increase in range
- 6 times more power
These tabless batteries measure 46 millimeters by 80 millimeters, so they were appropriately named “4680 cells.” How will this battery improvement help their electric vehicles in terms of battery cycle life and fire risks while maintaining the impressive energy capacity, power, and range? The answer to those questions is unclear.
Improve Battery Cells
Tesla has been researching how to get an even longer range using durable and safe battery cells. This includes a focus on lithium iron in lieu of lithium-ion, which has been a staple in powering electric vehicles. Tesla hopes that their vehicles will have a range of 400 miles or more with their new battery technology, to one day being one million miles.
The company also aims to eliminate cobalt from its batteries, which is the most expensive element of a lithium-ion battery. Yet, the future of Tesla and the electric vehicle industry may be simply adding that letter “R” to ion. Tesla claimed this improvement will have numerous benefits for their electric vehicles of the future:
- Cut the costs of the vehicle
- Extend the range to more than 400 miles
Add to the cycle life and the longevity of the battery even when driven continuously
Encourage a mass adoption of electric vehicles from gasoline drivers
Add to the value of batteries so that they could be resold when owners trade in their vehicles
It sounds like this improvement by Tesla will hit one of its battery issues, which is increasing the cycle life and longevity of the battery. They may even be used in vehicles that are continuously on the road like taxis, Ubers, and Lyft vehicles since they can possibly last twice as long as the original batteries for the same or cheaper price.
The future may end up seeing robo-taxis, like in science fiction films, since Tesla is looking to improve both their self-driving capabilities as well as the longevity of their battery cells. Right now, electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries and cobalt are predicted to give way to lithium iron phosphate and other innovative chemistries.
Improve Cybertruck Towing Capabilities
When Tesla launched its Cybertruck, the critics were harsh and saw the trapezoidal truck as further evidence that Tesla’s innovations were doomed for failure. Tesla did receive 200,000 pre-orders within a month, but this did not compare to the best-selling vehicle that same year, which was over 1 million Ford F-150 vehicles.
The Cybertruck is offered in three versions, a single motor RWD and either a dual motor or tri-motor AWD. They all differ in range and towing capacity, while all have a payload capacity of 3,500 pounds, come with Tesla’s autopilot technology, and have adaptive air suspension. Why would Tesla receive criticism on this innovation with these benefits:
- The trapezoidal exoskeleton is made of impenetrable Ultra-Hard 30x Cold-Rolled stainless steel (some even say this exoskeleton is actually bulletproof)
- The exoskeleton contains armor glass that is ultra-strong and polymer-layered composite
- The suspension of the Cybertruck can be raised and lowered four inches in either direction for easy and comfortable access to the truck or back vault
- The Cybertruck has the same torque as an electric engine
One look at the Tesla Cybertruck and you may think you are looking at a spaceship, not a standard truck. It has a distinctive trapezoidal shape that is unlike any other vehicle on the planet. This unique, aerodynamic shape has been a strong point of contention for Tesla and can also pose some important problems for the Cybertruck.
For example, the Cybertruck was found to have more blind spots than a standard pick-up truck. However, Tesla did address this issue by improving its Cybertruck through the incorporation of a ground-breaking eight-camera system into the vehicle. But, the unique aerodynamics may need improvements with towing campers or travel trailers.
The aerodynamics of the Cybertruck may work more efficiently when towing trailers with very low profiles, such as a teardrop camper or pop-up trailer. Yet, drivers may not want to be limited to towing these low-profile vehicles. What about towing a camper with a wider front profile? Improvements may be needed to tow these vehicles efficiently.
Improve Autopilot Technology Safety
Autopilot is a driver-assist technology system that combines automated steering and adaptive cruise control with additional features (some at an additional cost) to help drivers avoid accidents and alleviate the stress of driving. However, this technology has also come under scrutiny due to drivers relying too much on this driver-assist system.
Tesla first received unwanted attention when two Tesla drivers were killed in 2016 and 2017 when their vehicles did not brake and, instead, crashed into tractor-trailers. The drivers had seemed to be relying on their Autopilot technology to brake for them, but the automatic braking technology failed to register that there was a truck in the car’s path.
Tesla claimed it was not the Autopilot technology that was at fault but, instead, the vehicle’s automatic braking system since the vehicles did not register that they were supposed to brake and, instead, crashed into the tractor-trailers. Critics still called on Tesla to permanently disable the driver-assist technology, Autopilot.
Instead, Tesla has continued to make improvements with its Autopilot technology and has gone through numerous upgrades since its first version of Autopilot hardware was introduced in September 2014. This hardware, Autopilot Hardware 1.0, only had one front-facing camera, a Bosch radar sensor with a 525-foot range, and 12 sonar sensors.
Tesla Has Worked on Improving Autopilot
Autopilot gives drivers a variety of benefits, including stop sign control, which helps them see and respond to stop signs, and traffic light control, which slows down the vehicle when coming up to a traffic light. Yet, the company has continued to improve Autopilot and possibly move toward a world where self-driving is possible and safe.
One of the main improvements Tesla has worked on is its driver-assist Autopilot technology. Since Hardware 1.0, Autopilot has gone through three other versions and is currently selling the latest Autopilot Hardware 3.0 in every Tesla vehicle manufactured after March 2019. Musk said this version has all the needed components for self-driving:
- Improved from one to eight cameras that surround the Tesla vehicle for 360 degrees and a 250-meter range.
- Updates to the original 12 sonar ultrasonic sensors so they can better identify soft and hard objects and detect twice the distance of the old system’s 16-foot range.
- Bringing the computer system in-house instead of using a third party and now using a two bespoke unit design.
- Incorporating a new Hardware 3 onboard computer processing system that increases the data from the older system more than 40 times.
- The onboard computer can also read lane paint that is on the road so that it can sense and detect any surrounding vehicles.
- The incorporation of “Tesla Vision,” which are vision-processing tools that replaced the Bosch radar sensor so that it further analyzes the Tesla vehicle’s surrounding environment without radar.
- A Tesla-developed neural net to help see in every direction simultaneously.
Tesla Vision in particular is an improvement in Model 3 and Y cars delivered after May 2021 that assists drivers without the original Bosch radar sensor. Instead, the Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technology now rely on computer vision-based technology on its cameras to improve the vehicle’s monitoring of its surrounding environment.
Because Autopilot Hardware 3.0 is only available in Tesla vehicles manufactured after March 2019, Tesla vehicle owners that have two older versions of Autopilot – Hardware 2.0 or 2.5 – can upgrade to the 3.0 Hardware system if they buy a Full Service-Driving package. Tesla vehicles come with standard Autopilot; full features cost $10,000 more.
Is the Removal of Radar Really an Improvement?
After Tesla removed the Bosch radar system and replaced it with the Tesla Vision component, this “improvement” actually ended up harming the company’s rating with the respected ratings giant Consumer Reports. When the Model 3 had radar, it was a top pick and helped Tesla attain a rating of 9/10 for capabilities and performance.
Tesla was the only manufacturing company to earn a 9/10 in this category, but this all changed once the radar was removed and replaced by vision-processing tools. Once Tesla took the Bosch radar out of its Model 3, the vehicle was removed from the Consumer Reports top picklist. Other ratings companies have also followed suit.
Both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have said they are removing the Model 3 from their Top Safety Pick title (IIHS) and removing the checkmark given to some of the main features offered by Tesla’s Autopilot (NHTS). In particular, this includes automatic emergency braking.
It is questionable how features like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane changing will work without radar. In addition to the controversy behind Tesla’s decision to improve their vehicles by removing radar, the automatic emergency braking has come under fire by customers, the media, and the federal government.
Improve Marketing for Self-Driving Cars
Probably the two biggest issues Tesla has had that have caused a flurry of media attention is with drivers relying too much on the self-driving aspects of Autopilot and have paid fatal consequences for not paying attention. Tesla had conducted beta testing of Full Self-Driving software but found problems with the testers that led to changes.
Tesla hired individuals to be beta testers of its new Full Self-Driving software. However, the company ended up revoking some of the drivers’ beta testing liberties because they were relying too much on the software and not paying attention when they were sitting behind the wheel. This illustrates how the name of the software may be misleading.
Tesla offers its Full Self-Driving Capability as a compatible option for all new Tesla vehicles and is designed to assist drivers with both short- and long-distance trips. However, the name indicates that you can sit back, relax, and let your Tesla drive you to your destination, but this is not the case. Instead, it seems to be more driver-assist:
- Helps automatically park the car
- Changes lanes automatically
- Has both traffic and stop sign control
- Leads your vehicle onto a ramp from a highway
Another improvement Tesla is researching is adding its autosteer function onto city streets, but none of these conveniences make the cars autonomous. Although Musk is testing fully autonomous driving on his own Tesla to see if a Full Self-Driving package can deliver this convenience in the future, a Tesla is currently not a self-driving vehicle.
Improve Automatic Braking System
In addition to the media attention garnered with Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving package, its automatic emergency braking system has also come under fire in recent years. More specifically, a common complaint that has needed to be addressed is the problems with “phantom braking” with Tesla’s automatic emergency braking system.
Phantom braking occurs when Tesla’s vehicle cameras perceive there is an obstacle and then react to this perceived obstacle by either slowing down the vehicle or stopping abruptly without warning. The term “phantom” comes from the fact that the obstacle is not there and can be confusing and potentially dangerous to the driver.
This problem has been said to be prevalent when the driver is using either autosteer or cruise control. Sure, you can simply turn off these functions to avoid phantom braking, but they are important features that are wanted by Tesla drivers. That being said, phantom braking occurrences have happened in the most inopportune places:
- Occurring when oncoming traffic is driving in the other direction even if it is not in the way or in danger of hitting the Tesla
- On snowy and icy roads and putting the Tesla out of control
- Occurring after recognizing a large sign on a four-lane road flashing “traffic signal ahead” as an obstacle and braking abruptly
- Phantom braking while the car is in “current speed” or “speed limit” mode
Simply happening while driving on the highway for no apparent reason at all
The main way Tesla drivers have found to stop this dangerous phantom braking is to turn off the autopilot, automatic emergency braking, and cruise control so that the human is driving the car, not the computer. This defeats the purpose of having the benefits of Autopilot if it needs to be turned off to avoid the dangers of phantom braking.
Improving its Automatic Emergency Braking System
Tesla’s automatic emergency braking system is meant to calculate the probability of a crash occurring and then reacting by either greatly reducing the vehicle’s speed or abruptly stopping the vehicle completely. This should reduce the potential damage from colliding or crashing into an obstacle, whether it is another vehicle, pedestrian, or object.
When a Tesla vehicle was said to have caused a three-car collision in Norway, it was blamed on the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system and phantom braking. The media made claims that the Tesla car went wild because of the speed limit change on the road and abruptly stopped. This, in turn, caused the cars behind to crash.
It was later established that ongoing traffic may have triggered the phantom braking, but that the van behind the Tesla was probably following too close, as was the truck behind the van, and this also contributed to the three-car crash. That being said, Tesla will more than likely need to make improvements to avoid phantom driving in the future.
Drivers can fix this automatic emergency braking issue by pushing the accelerator and brake, but this should not have to occur with systems that are meant to make things less stressful for the driver. Therefore, both experts and Tesla customers agree that the company should look into this further and help find a solution for phantom braking.
Improvements Needed for Phantom Braking
The latest Autopilot Hardware 3.0 is certainly impressive and the company has definitely made improvements to the software with the latest version introduced on February 27, 2019. Some of these latest features have definitely made driving easier for Tesla customers and have alleviated many of the stressors of driving, including the following:
- Autosteer that can make automatic lane changes
- Traffic aware cruise control that matches the vehicle’s speed to vehicles in front
- Autopark for hands-free parking
- Eight cameras to track the lanes
Although Tesla has made improvements in its Autopilot driver-assist technology, there may need to be further improvements if this computer software system ends up being triggered for no apparent reason and ends up causing the vehicle to phantom brake in frustrating or dangerous situations. Drivers should not have to turn off Autopilot for help.
Tesla drivers have said they are able to stop the frustrations of phantom braking by going into the Autopilot settings and turning off the “Automatic Emergency Braking” part of the software. If this Autopilot feature is disabled, the vehicle will give the driver a warning that braking will not occur even if the cameras detect a possible collision.
Tesla’s Autopilot software could be triggered by anything, and phantom braking could occur. Whether it is oncoming traffic, a street sign that is too large or blinking sign lights, Tesla drivers need to pump the accelerator to stop braking and be able to use automatic emergency braking if the Autopilot software is triggered by a “phantom.”