Model 3's 215 Miles Maximum Range Owes a Lot to Aerodynamics, and Here's Why

Tesla Model 3 1 photo
Photo: Tesla Motors
The Model 3 is both significantly smaller and lighter than the Model S, but these two aspects alone can't explain the extraordinary maximum range of 215 miles with a battery pack of no more than 60 kWh. There has to be something else at play.
As most of us already know, driving a car means constantly battling friction, whether it's inside the drivetrain and powertrain or with the surrounding air. Some people tend to ignore it, thinking it doesn’t make that big of a difference: as long as you have a powerful enough engine, it’s fine. Whoever has ever ridden a bicycle on a windy day with the gusts coming from the front, however, will happily disagree. The air friction is not something to be taken lightly if you’re after either speed or fuel efficiency.

Tesla has proven to be after both, but undoubtedly it’s that maximum range of 215 miles that will make all the difference for the customers compared to the other accessible EVs on offer. And a very important part in achieving that number will be played by the vehicle’s aerodynamics. So if you find that car’s design to be just a little weird, just think about those extra few miles it allows you to go between charges before you start being too harsh on it.

The goal is to reach a 0.21 drag coefficient, which would make the Model 3 the most streamlined production vehicle ever built. The Model S and Model X before it have both set records in their segments, but the Model 3 would break them all. And that's pretty hard to imagine when you look at that massive front end with a high lip and a large vertical surface.

But cutting through the air isn't everything: equally important is what happens with that air once you've pushed it aside, above or below. The Model 3 appears to be very careful about all these directions. If you think the integrated door handles are a cool design trick, you shouldn't be surprised to know they also help with airflow. There's probably one mile of range right there.

The wheels are another part that is both aesthetic and functional. It's a very good thing people liked them (there were a lot of Twitter requests that they make it into production) because Tesla apparently worked a lot on them. Their turbine design directs the flow of air under the car, and look gorgeous while doing it.

These days, it's not a case of trial and error anymore. Carmakers use very advanced computer programs to simulate the effects of their designs, and Tesla obviously makes no exception employing the use of Exa PowerFLOW. All the work is done in-house, so nobody has access to their files, but Ales Alajbegoic, Exa's Vice President of Ground Transportation Applications, thinks he has pinned down the areas where Tesla made the most remarkable innovations to achieve the planned 0.21 Cd drag coefficient.

Alajbegovic spoke to Electrek and broke down the most important parts:

The wheels:

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.”

The front end design:

“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.”

The Model 3 is a work in progress, so nothing is quite set in stone at this point. However, Musk will want to reduce as much as possible any intervention on the current design, since the car enjoyed a predominantly favorable reception. But if a few modifications here and there are required to achieve that 0.21 Cd drag coefficient, then by all means, do it. It's for the sake of science (and, of course, increased range).
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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