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Sources: Tesla Model 3 will have extreme aerodynamic design details


A new source with connections at Tesla’s design group has informed me that late stage tweaking of the Model 3 is being done with an eye towards extreme minimization of wind resistance. The Model 3, which of course is the renamed Model E, is scheduled to be shown off for the first time publicly in March of 2016. The mass market Tesla is expected to be a smaller sedan/crossover platform that resembles the BMW 3 series in size. The range of the vehicle is expected to start at 200 miles and go up from there with various size batteries and drivetrains. The majority of Tesla employees are now working on this car.

What I’m hearing internally is that CEO Elon Musk is intensely driving the engineering designers to deliver a design with a drag coefficient lower than .20 which would make it the lowest of any mass production car in the world and close to extreme vehicles like GM’s EV1 and Volkswagen’s XL1 (pictured above), – both cars that have flat rear wheel covers…
Achieving extremely low drag coefficients can often result in unconventional – at times unappealing – designs. But considering Musk’s penchant for aesthetics, it is unlikely Tesla will sacrifice visual appeal for better aerodynamic performance. Although he is on record saying that the Model 3 “won’t look like other cars.”

A list of extreme low drag coefficient production vehicles from Wikipedia is shown on the right.
The Model S is already one of the lowest on record at .24 and narrowing its profile to “3 series” width is already probably good for a small gain. But to get to the next step, I’ve heard Tesla is:

  • vehicle low drag coefficientAgain trying to remove side rear view mirrors
  • Working on a single blade windshield wiper mechanism closer to the Roadster that tucks away when not in use
  • Redesigning underbody and battery pack protection to channel air efficiently
  • Focus on tighter wheel wells and sporty but efficient rims. Covered wheels have been discussed (update)
  • Experimenting with a conical trunk, though not nearly as extreme as hypermiler mods
  • Working with a few tire makers on designs which are also intended to decrease rolling resistance

Most interesting is perhaps the last detail: instead of pulling in air to cool the batteries through the front of the car, the nose and bottom of the vehicle could act as a fan-less heat sink as air is drawn around it. This provides cooling when needed for the batteries and engine/drivetrain. I’m not sure where this idea came from but I could make a pretty good guess.

After unveiling the Model X with cameras instead of side mirrors, Tesla unsuccessfully tried to change the law requiring all production vehicles to have side rear view mirrors. Even with rearview mirrors, the Model X still managed to beat the aerodynamic performance of all production SUV/crossovers by achieving a drag coefficient of .24 – narrowly beating Audi, which claimed the record with its recently unveiled Quattro.

Every little bit of drag eliminated means that fewer batteries need to go into the Model 3 to reach that 200 mile threshold the company has been promising. Fewer batteries on a massive scale isn’t just a significant cost savings, it also lowers the weight of the car, gives Tesla’s engineers more room to work internally and leaves more space for upgrading to a pack with more energy without adversely affecting design.

If I had to guess right now, or indeed two years ago, I’d say Tesla aims to get 200 miles out of a ~50kWh battery.  As a comparison, Nissan’s slightly less elegant but same-sized 2016 Leaf gets 110 mile range from a 30kWh pack, so it is certainly possible.

9to5-image 2014-10-29 at 5.49.16 PM

We’re going to run this info by Tesla to see if they have any comment and hopefully we’ll have more to share from this tipster soon.

Fred Lambert contributed to this report.

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  1. František Kubiš Jr. - 7 years ago

    Hope they make at least 55-60kWh base version for 200 miles real-world range.

    • Jouni Valkonen - 7 years ago

      200 mile range will not sell well enough. Therefore Tesla needs to have 80 kWh battery for standard version that sells most. And perhaps optional 100 kWh version. Large battery allows also faster supercharging, therefore it makes more sense to have 80 kWh battery than 50 kWh battery, although 80 kWh battery costs about 5000 dollars more than 50 kWh battery. 80 kWh battery has also longer lifespan than 50 kWh battery, therefore it can be dealed as investment rather than luxory feature.

  2. AllahKiller - 7 years ago

    .2? Can’t be done unless you drop sideview mirrors and use cameras… Will this be legal in two years?

    • Mikheil - 7 years ago

      I am not sure about legality, but if you take closer look at the picture you will not be able to find mirrors you will see aerodynamically placed cameras

  3. Marc - 7 years ago

    Narrowing the frontal area to “3 series width” will not affect drag coefficient (but will reduce drag force). Drag coefficient and frontal area are independent components of the drag force equation.

  4. Daniel Zamir - 7 years ago

    Please make it less ugly than the VW XL1.

  5. Graham - 7 years ago

    I hope they fair in the rear wheels and get the full aero look, any designer worth their salt must have realised by now we are done with fat tyres and flared arches the low CD look is already the future. I own a Model S and wish they had gone a bit more out on a limb with the design. Totally understand why it is the way it is to grab the cautious market but Model 3 should break the mould.

  6. Tom - 7 years ago

    Judging by comments Musk has made on Tesla conference calls, 200 miles of range is the very minimum that would be acceptable – but he hinted that with their new cell chemistry they’re on target for more like 230 with a surprisingly small battery pack, so maybe you’re right about the 50kwh pack.

    • xprzemolix - 7 years ago

      kWh us kWh regardless of chemistry. Better chemistry allow to pack more kWh into same space (kWh/L) or weight (kWh/kg) or just make it cheaper (kWh/$).

      Bigger the better upto 300miles after that it’s of no use to any non professional driver.

  7. Howard S Marks - 7 years ago

    No way is the MODEL 3 going to even start at 50kWh that is not enough and 200 miles is not enough either it will be at least
    equal to the current 70kWh Model S in range.
    So I reckon 60kWh entry 70kWh Mid price and 80kWh top version of MODEL 3.

  8. Trpaslík z Trpasloje - 7 years ago

    If the design is not finalized yet, there’s no chance we see the production-ready Model 3 by March.

  9. Dave - 7 years ago

    I bet they will make a 3 wheeled car

  10. Aas - 7 years ago

    “nose and bottom of the vehicle could act as a fanless heat sink as air is drawn around it.”
    Im’ not going to guess how would you heat the battery in cold climates with this passive heatsink.

  11. Rick Lane - 7 years ago

    It’s easy to get around the side rearview mirror requirement… The side rearview camera will be on a stalk, right? Just add a teeny tiny useless mirror (about the same diameter of the cameras’ len) to the stalk. Thus meeting the requirement by bending, but not breaking the rules… lawyers and politicians do it every day.

  12. Stephen - 7 years ago

    “The Model S is already one of the lowest on record at .24 and narrowing its profile to “3 series” width is already probably good for a small gain.”

    Note that the smaller size of the Model 3 will help reduce total drag but it won’t change the Cd. As the Wikipedia article says, “the drag coefficient (commonly denoted as: cd, cx or cw) is a dimensionless quantity that is used to quantify the drag or resistance of an object in a fluid environment, such as air or water”.

    If they can achieve a 0.20 Cd, combined with a smaller frontal area, the Model 3 should use significantly less energy than the Model S.

  13. danfrederiksen1 - 7 years ago

    That would be nice but they really need to focus on weight as well. Model S and X are fatasses.
    And the 100 watt vampire drain is a disgrace.

  14. Marvin8 - 7 years ago

    If it’s as small as a Bimmer 3, I don’t it will sell well unless the interior is the size of a mid-size sedan. Can Musk break the laws of physics? I don’t think so.

    • Howard S Marks - 7 years ago

      Actually if they learn from the French and Japanese they have a track record of carving out surprising amounts of cabin room inside small to medium size Euro-Japanese cars.

      • Marvin8 - 7 years ago

        I hope you are correct.


Avatar for Seth Weintraub Seth Weintraub

Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites. Tesla Model 3, X and Chevy Bolt owner…5 ebikes and counting