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

Tesla is back with another lesson for its gas-guzzling peers.

May 31, 2014 at 2:14PM

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.

Aerodynamics
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.

Tesla Drag Factor

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.

Safety
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.

Tesla Model S Frunk Tmf

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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Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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