Browse Publications Technical Papers 2012-01-0177
2012-04-16

The Aerodynamic Development of the Tesla Model S - Part 1: Overview 2012-01-0177

The Tesla Motors Model S has been designed from a clean sheet of paper to prove that no compromises to a desirable aesthetic style and world class driving experience are necessary in order to be energy efficient. Aerodynamic optimization is a major contributor to the overall efficiency of an electric vehicle and the close integration of the Design and Engineering groups at Tesla Motors was specifically arranged to process design iterations quickly and enable the fully informed development of the exterior surfaces at a very rapid pace.
Clear communication and a working appreciation of each other's priorities were vital to this collaboration and underpinning this was extensive use of the powerful analysis and visualization capabilities of CFD. CFD was used to identify and effectively communicate the nature of beneficial and detrimental design features and to find ways to enhance or ameliorate them accordingly. This CFD-based development was supported by periodic wind tunnel tests of detailed full scale models and prototype vehicles.
Following aerodynamic optimization at the overall shape level, focus switched to optimization of production parts, and every external component of the Model S has been examined in great detail searching for aerodynamic performance, since areas that may seem insignificant in isolation can rapidly accumulate to have a substantial impact on the whole.
The innovative architecture of the Model S platform allows for an entirely flat floor between the axles. This has substantial aerodynamic benefits but also brings with it its own challenges in managing the faster airflow beneath the vehicle, particularly around the wheels. In addition, the Model S employs multi-stage active management of the cooling airflow intakes and vehicle ride height in order to maximize its aerodynamic performance over its entire operational envelope. This holistic approach to optimization has resulted in class-leading aerodynamic performance for the Model S and has a very substantial benefit on vehicle efficiency and overall range.

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