Tesla recently confirmed that the base version of the Model 3 will be able to travel over 215 miles on a single charge with a battery pack “smaller than 60 kWh”. The relatively small battery capacity makes it clear that the vehicle’s aerodynamic performance is crucial to achieving the range, much like it is for the Model S and X, even with their higher capacity battery packs.

It became clear that Tesla knows the importance of aerodynamics after both the Model S and X achieved the lowest drag coefficient (Cd) in their respective segments. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that he expects the Model 3 to achieve an incredibly low 0.21 Cd, which should be enough to make the Model 3 the most aerodynamic mass production car ever made.

Tesla is said to use Exa’s digital simulation tools to design its vehicles and Exa’s Vice President of Ground Transportation Applications, Ales Alajbegovic, shared his thoughts on the Model 3’s aero innovations.

Ales explains on what he bases his analysis:

“Tesla uses Exa’s PowerFLOW digital simulation software in-house to design its cars. We don’t see the process, but by analyzing the cars that Musk unveiled at the end of March, we can see where Tesla has innovated.”

Firstly, the engineer highlights Tesla’s new wheel designs unveiled with the Model 3. Musk said that Tesla worked hard on the new designs and that they are not only for the unveiling, and that they should make it to production. Alajbegovic commented:

“The differing turbine-blade styling not only comes across as fresh and appealing, but it also directs the flow of the air under the body of the car to reduce drag.

That’s smart. Tesla could have used an active aero solution that closed the vanes on the wheels at speed, but they chose not to. In fact, it appears there are no active aero devices on the Model 3, which reduces the cost of making it.”

Like the Model X’s and the new updated Model S’ front fascia, the Model 3 also has a grille-less design. Ales explains the aerodynamic features of the front-end design of the Model 3 and its air curtains:

“Here only the shape remains. A more wedged front end, such as used by rear-engined Porsches, might well be more desirable aerodynamically, but Tesla could be using the grille shape with its rounded edges to control the air flow over the top or round the sides of the car.

The Model 3 also employs air curtains in the lower fender that exit ahead of the front tires to provide a drag-reducing air stream over the wheels, while helping the flow transition smoothly around the sides of the vehicle. The underbody is likely to be flat and smooth, ending with a rear diffuser to control the air coming from under the car.”

Tesla Model S_ streamribbons To illustrate the importance of aerodynamics, Ales estimates that by reducing the Model S drag figure from 0.32 to 0.24, Tesla managed to increase the range of the car by about 50 miles.

Elon Musk said that Tesla’s design and aerodynamic teams are still working on the details of the Model 3 and things could change, but it would be truly impressive if they can achieve a 0.21 Cd. It would prove Tesla able to consistently (or at least on 3 separate and consecutive occasions) achieve record-breaking low drag coefficients, while still delivering compelling designs.

Featured Image: Beautiful pictures of a Tesla Model 3 prototype in the Marin Headlands [Gallery] –  with permission courtesy of Joseph Neuman.

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Fred Lambert

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