The Tech That Drives The New Tesla Model S, Explained

The Tech That Drives The New Tesla Model S, Explained

Last night, Elon Musk took the wraps off the new Tesla Model S. Dual motors and all-wheel drive don't just make it faster, a new sensor array will make it safer too. Let's break out each innovation, figure out what it is and how it works.

Dual Motors: Putting the "D" in the Tesla Model S P85D, an electric motor has been added to the front of the car, driving those wheels. Previously, the Model S was rear-wheel drive only.

That motor develops 221 bhp, taking the car's total power up to a supercar-like 691 bhp. Combined torque is even more impressive at 931Nm, growing from 362Nm. The additional motor and its associated hardware adds 132kg of weight, taking the top-of-the-line P85D's total weight to 2239kg.

To put those numbers in perspective, the insane new Dodge Challenger Hellcat makes 707bhp, 881Nm and weighs 2018kg. The Tesla is faster to accelerate, reaching 100km/h in 3.2 seconds to the Hellcat's 3.7-second time. The electric car is limited to a top speed of 250km/h, so will eventually be outrun by the 328km/h Internal Combustion Engine car.

The Tech That Drives The New Tesla Model S, Explained

The two motors powering the all-wheel drive Model S are visible in red.

Adding an electric motor to drive the front wheels is a vastly different approach to equipping an ICE car with a transfer case and All-Wheel Drive. Linking the front and rear wheels to the engine in an ICE car involves adding much weight and complication through an additional driveshaft, an arrangement that also limits the proportion of power that can be directed to either end, the speed at which that proportion can change and the degree of fine drive control that can be established. Electric drive systems in general can be controlled to a much finer degree and the D's will be able to function completely independently of each other, vectoring torque to individual wheels in an ideal, instantaneous manner. This amount of control over motive force is an engineer's wet dream. As Musk says in his presentation, it even increases road-holding, taking the four-door sedan up to a full g on the skidpan. That Hellcat? MotorTrend measured its lateral acceleration at just 0.94g.

Of course, all-wheel drive will enhance the Model S's capability in inclement weather too, an important factor to the large number of luxury car buyers in the Northeast and something which will more fully enable Tesla to conquest sales in that market from established players like Mercedes, Audi and BMW.

The Tech That Drives The New Tesla Model S, Explained

Long range radar (green), an image recognition camera (light blue), 360-degree ultrasonic radar and satellite data all inform both autopilot and the driver.

Autopilot: Musk says that Tesla is still five to six years away from a true, self-driving car. And regulations currently don't permit use of such vehicles on the road, away from development allowances in California and Nevada. Instead, Tesla has fitted all new Model Ss with a sophisticated array of sensors intended to better inform the driver of conditions around the car and which can take some limited control to avoid crashes.

There's four components to the Autopilot system:

Long Range Radar: This looks ahead of the Model S, identifying the presence, direction of travel and relative speed of other cars. It can see further than the car's headlights and cut through fog, rain or any other visual impairment.

Image Recognition Camera: This also looks ahead of the car, identifying and reading things like traffic signs, lane markings and pedestrians.

360 Degree Ultrasonic Radar: Looking all-around the car, this sensor is able to detect everything from cars in your blind spot to a stray pet about to run into the road, to a child playing behind you as you're backing up; a soft-object capability the forward-facing long range radar does not have. Consider that a boon to motorcyclists too, Autopilot should be able to stop homicidally negligent car drivers from running us over!

GPS Data Integration W/Real-Time Traffic: Location based data is beamed to the car, informing it with a database of speed limits and traffic/road conditions.

The Tech That Drives The New Tesla Model S, Explained

All that data might sound overwhelming, but it's presented to the driver through the Model S's slick, simple information display. You can then use it to inform your decision making while driving or, if necessary, the car can step in to aid you.

Together, Autopilot brings Tesla up-to-date with new European safety regulations and compresses a vast amount of data into a simple, visual display informing the driver of hazards. It also give the car some element of self-driving, enabling it to check blind spots, then switch lanes when it's safe to do so itself if you've activated the turn signal while on the highway. It can also auto-brake if it detects traffic is slowing or stopping ahead or if a hazard suddenly appears, such as that pet running out into the road. Musk mentions that the system is now capable of emergency braking, taking advantage of the car's full braking performance if necessary. The drive system, brakes and steering are now all fly-by-wire (well, the sterring is an electrically assisted mechanical arrangement), enabling both faster actuation than traditional hydraulic or mechanical systems and, of course, allowing the car to take control when necessary.

While in Autopilot, the car can also read traffic signs like stop signs or lights, or speed limits -- the latter also informed through that GPS data -- to keep you within the realm of safety and legality.

It's not self-driving, yet, but it is a huge degree of driver assistance, giving you better information with which to make decisions and stepping in to save your arse if you're not paying attention or if an environmental condition is limiting vision. It should make highway driving a more relaxing affair for you as well, taking much of the guess work out of cruising along at a steady speed through traffic doing otherwise.

Musk says the sophistication of these abilities will be developed over the next few years through software updates that will roll out to all models equipped with Autopilot sensor hardware.

With little fanfare and a car that looks exactly the same as before, it's easy to walk away from this new model presentation nonplussed. You shouldn't. Tesla is in the business of driving automobiles towards their next evolutionary step; adding significant levels of both safety and performance is a leap forwards, achieved while making substantial progress towards cutting the human out of the driving equation altogether.



    it's all about money at this time not only there are no free charging stations in Australia as government refuse to invest in this infrastructure and very little tax incentive to buy one of these as the same price range offers so much more choices of prestige brands. Looking at the price, no one will buy this here in Australia and that's a promise.

      There's one in a Fremantle carpark that gives you free electricity and parking

      Tesla are bringing out the Supercharger network in Australia, I believe if you buy the 85kw variants you get access to the supercharger network free, but you have to buy it as an optional extra for the 60kw.
      The supercharger network itself is expected to be deployed in 2015:

      Thanks Mr. Negativity.

      Why does everyone expect this $100k+ car to be super cheap and affordable for everyone?
      It's like saying damn those Ferrari cars are pointless because they're so expensive.

      It's a luxury, high performance car. The Model S (and probably the Model X) are not here to save the planet and give every single person awesome futurist electric transportation. They are here to make money so the company can further develop the technology, mature it, and bring it down in price.

      The Model III will be the more affordable version, and by the time that comes out, we'll have superchargers in Australia.

      In any case, the only reason you'd need a supercharger is if you drive more then 400km per day... So unless you're a taxi or drive to Melb-Syd 3 times a week, you shouldn't be too worried about the lack of superchargers.

      There's one in Canberra. Not an official Tesla turbo charge though. Either way I'd charge mine at home while I sleep. I would love to buy one but yes, they're a little pricey. Still, I plan on owning one in the next 3-4 years!

      I'd buy one today if I had the cash.
      I'll definitely be buying the Tesla model 3.

      Battery technology is improving at an exponential rate, so I'd say it will get lighter and cheaper, sooner rather than later..!

      paloverde, only Tesla knows the number (I know of over 50 orders with paid deposits) but it's enough for them to have set up a service centre in Sydney and to have one underway in Melbourne. They are already planning the first of their Superchargers.

      While our government may be working against them (and us - the people), Tesla is charging forward regardless. There seem to be enough like-minded people in Australia to make this work.

      "Thats a promise"?
      You're gonna make sure no one buys one? Can we hold you to that, since its, you know, a promise?
      I also like how people keep going on about how much it weighs. The article points out it outdoes lighter performance cars!!

      Last edited 01/12/14 2:18 pm

      They've already been selling them online here. And people have been buying (Simon Hackett springs to mind).

      You have no idea what you're talking about.

      I'll be buying the model 3 when it arrives here.

      EDIT: hmm, perhaps I and the people above me have been trolled...

      Last edited 03/12/14 12:09 am

    For a fully kitted out P85D, (Double the price of the Hellcat in the U.S.) add luxury and other Australian taxes and it weighs 300 kgs more than most comparable cars, you'd be better of buying a similar looking Audi or something. Although the over 400 km range is actually pretty good for an all electric car with super-car like power and speed. In the long run charging at home and not buying petrol, I suppose savings could be made, up until the batteries crap out and need replacing. They'll probably sell 1 or 2 in Australia.

      I took a test drive of the Model S P85 last week and it was awsome. It was an amazing experince Ill not soon forget. They are building a charge network between Melbourne and Sydney and you will be able to charge for free. If you want to see it for your self, its parked outside the Melbourne Marriot Hotel.

    It is a very big heavy car probably bigger than an S Class Merc.

    A kitted out model on show in Sydney costs around $140k. The company says it is rolling out charging platforms in Oz next year. Charges best on 3 phase power at home.

    They expect a new model next year to retail for around $40-50k.

    I ordered my P85D last month. Can't wait to take the delivery of the car.
    Drives very similar to my S class.

    When they hit the sub 30k mark, electric cars will be viable for the every man/woman. I look forwards to the day.

    And for all the improvements, the energy consumed to produce the car will never be balanced by the energy saved by the car (i.e electrical Vs ICE). Same for Prius.

      . . . And even more so for an ICE. Your point is?

      Yes, there is the whole "false economy of manufacturing" thing, but that's not the point, is it? They're not claiming to end global warming. Also, unlike the Prius and other such hybrids, Tesla's cars are actually a good step in the direction of the evolution of the motor vehicle and not a half-baked marketing ploy to cater to the hollywood celeb set.

      Also, as a bonafide petrolhead, I welcome Tesla. The sooner they bring out their cheap, mass-produced autonomous (or even traditionally-driven) cars, the fewer idiots we have on the roads trying to kill the rest of us. It'll also mean faster speed limits and more autobahn-like roads. Oh, and don't even get me started on the whole "more petrol for us" argument.

      Stop being so negative about the future and all these positive changes in technology.

        Autonomous cars and IC engines aren't mutually exclusive. Being autonomous isn't dependant on what type of engine a car has.

      That may be true in Australia because your electric power generation is dirty.

      Here in the civilized world electric cars vary from being somewhat better than ICE to many times better - INCLUDING manufacturing energy.

      Rather than badmouthing electric cars, you need to focus on your power company.

    Correct. There are now 275 Tesla superchargers world-wide.

    Been following Tesla's progress since day 1. Visionary.
    The only limitation I see is the range. But as has been said, it shouldn't be a problem for normal daily use. But driving say to the Coolangatta on the Gold Coast from Toowoomba in Qld is a round trip of OVER 400km.
    If only Tesla would investigate the "Nano technology" batteries produced by companies like "M-Phase Technologies" in the USA, we'd end up with the perfect car, with a range between charges of probably over 1000km. Their smart surface technology batteries have enormous capacity (600A) and use-on-demand technology. The M-power Jump is about the size of a TV remote, but can start up to 40 full size cars on a single charge.
    Why aren't Tesla using this technology?

      Tesla does indeed monitor developing battery technologies very closely, I recall Elon Musk stating this in an interview/Q&A session, where he also said that almost all new wonder battery tech fails to reach the acid test phase of "Send us a sample to evaluate"

      The lithium jump packs you refer to are great, but have significant limitations for other usage scenarios.
      After Max 30 seconds of cranking, they need 5 minutes or more to cool down to protect life span. (starting those 40 cars could take a while). They must be disconnected instantly the engine is running to prevent heat and over voltage damage.

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