Tesla Motors, Inc. Gives Antiquated Auto Peers a Lesson on Design

Electric-car maker Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) is still new to the auto industry, but that doesn't mean it's not already teaching its antiquated competitors a thing or two about vehicle design. Sure, the Model S is a great looking car. But what about its functionality? In both aerodynamics and safety, Tesla's Model S is among the best.

Not all electric cars have to be ugly. After General Motors' Chevy Volt proved electric cars could at least look normal, Tesla went a step further and introduced a stunning and sporty design in the Model S -- all while trumping the range of any electric car before it, with up to 265 miles per charge. Even more, despite the luxury car's imposing size, Tesla was able to maintain a strikingly low drag coefficient of just 6.2 feet squared.

Model S. Image source: Tesla Motors.

The Model S drag coefficient, according to Car and Driver magazine, makes the Model S among the "slipperiest" cars on the road. In the magazine's most recent issue, Car and Driver put five of the cars with low drag areas head-to-head in a wind tunnel. The Model S came out the winner, beating the Toyota Prius, the Nissan LEAF, the Chevy Volt, and the Mercedes-Benz CLA250.

"It proves you can look slick and be slick at the same time," said Car and Driver.  

To be fair, the Model S is a pricey car, with the base price starting at $69,900. The Nissan LEAF, Toyota Prius, and the Chevy Volt trail far behind, making them much more affordable.

Still, some of the factors contributing to Tesla's low drag factor will find their way to the company's planned lower-cost vehicle for 2017. Beyond the adjustable air suspension, most of the features the magazine cited as contributing factors to the low drag factor are a function of Tesla's unique approach to designing electric cars, not cost.

The Model S isn't just safe, it is the safest car in the world -- at least by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards, the agency that tests the safety of every car sold in the U.S.

While a few Model S battery fires that resulted from high-speed accidents sparked concern among investors at the end of 2013, those worries have subsided with time as no more fires were reported. Further, Tesla took measures in March to reinforce the underbody protection that protects the battery built into the floor of the car to ease any fears customers may have.

These aerodynamic and safety feats were both achieved while Tesla built in to the car unprecedented storage space. "Model S can transport a mountain bike, a surfboard, and a flat screen TV -- all at once. Fold the seats flat and Model S boasts more than 58 cubic feet of storage in the cabin alone, with an additional 5.3 cubic feet available under the hood," the company's website says. And the extra storage space under the hood also means there is room for an optional rear-facing two-person bench for children in the back of the car.

Photo: The Motley Fool

Tesla's early execution with top-notch design offers a convincing case that electric cars, when done right, are simply better than traditional gas-guzzling vehicles.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 31, 2014, at 6:41 PM, so75 wrote:

    The Model S is simply awesome. A coworker of mine has one.

  • Report this Comment On May 31, 2014, at 7:08 PM, jstack6 wrote:

    Tesla is the most efficient, fastest 0-60, safest, fastest charging, FREE Nationwide charging, seats up to 7 and gets remote software updates.

    They export them at $100K each to China and Europe. Sales are climbing faster than they can make them. A True American dream. They even reduce pollution and reduce the $1 Billion a day the USA imports.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 8:09 AM, ccippolito wrote:

    The Tesla S is an outstanding automobile in so many respects. I hope to have the opportunity to drive/own one, much sooner than later. However, credit for the vehicle's design belongs to failed car maker, Henrik Fisker. It is a shame that Tesla did not/could not acquire the rights to the Fisker Karma. Such a beautiful body would have been right at home on top of Tesla underpinnings.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 10:02 AM, ivan9876 wrote:

    The Motley Fool spin free huh? First off the model S was designed by Fisker Coachbuild so the credit goes to them. Secondly, a rear facing third row was commonplace in 1970's station wagons. Hardly novel and given the amount of headroom back there, it's dangerous as all he.ll. Headline: USA Today – Third Row Car Seats May Kill Your Kids. Keep in mind they're even talking about forward facing 3rd rows that at least put a seatback between you and the drunk texter that's ramming you.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 12:09 PM, phillipzx3 wrote:

    " First off the model S was designed by Fisker Coachbuild so the credit goes to them...."


    Be sure and be as "upset" if/when Motley ever does an article showcasing one dozens of other cars Fisker was involved in the design of (Aston Martin, BMW, etc). Also, make sure you post correct facts. Fisker Automotive, not Fisker Coachbuild.

    Small 'nit-pick' for sure. But since your post was based on nit-picks, it seemed appropriate to point out your "spin" on the subject. :-)

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 12:31 PM, dlwatib wrote:

    Actually, the Fisker design that Tesla commissioned was so bad they threw it out and started over. The Tesla Model S that you see today is not in any way a Fisker design. The credit goes to Franz von Holzhausen.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 3:08 PM, phillipzx3 wrote:


    You're most certainly correct. And all one has to do is look at the first sentence in the Model S "history wiki" to find it.

    Thanks for sharing the info. I see Franz also designed the Pontiac Solstice.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2014, at 6:29 PM, bobbleheadguru wrote:

    Not why an "infomercial" about the Tesla needed to be published here.

    The diction is so over the top that the writer had to use the phrase "the Nissan LEAF, Toyota Prius, and the Chevy Volt trail far behind" when giving them a back handed compliment for their lower price. A objective piece would state that the TELSA trails far behind in terms of affordability.

    I have an idea! I can buy a Volt (Around $26K) after tax credit)...... AND a Corvette (around $50K) and still have money left over v. a mid-level Telsa. The price point is so absurdly high that merits of the Tesla are irrelevant to average car buyers.

    It is much harder to make an EV affordable that to make an EV that 99% of people would never consider because it cost more than a mortgage.

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Daniel Sparks

Daniel is a senior technology specialist at The Motley Fool. To get the inside scoop on his coverage of technology companies, follow him on Twitter.

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