Gas-powered cars remain the standard on the road today. However, electric vehicles are growing in popularity. Many of the most recognizable electric vehicles are made by Tesla. Those models feature some of the most forward-thinking technology on the market today. But how do the engines in those cars really work?
What’s under the hood of a Tesla? Unlike a typical car, Tesla vehicles do not rely on an internal-combustion engine (ICE). Instead, Tesla models utilize an electric induction motor. A large rechargeable battery system powers these motors. The result is a consistent output of power, fewer maintenance needs, and lighter overall weight.
Currently, there are multiple popular Tesla models on the road. All of these vehicles use a similar induction motor. If you’re interested in learning more details about how these motors work, read on to find out.
Induction Motors Vs. Internal-Combustion Engines
Let’s begin by looking at Tesla motors in context. The induction motors used in Tesla vehicles serve as an alternative to the internal combustion engine. While internal combustion is the primary means by which most cars are powered, induction motors prove to have many advantages.
Take a look below to see how these two systems work. First, we’ll discuss the types of motors featured in Tesla vehicles. Then we’ll discuss the current internal-combustion engines currently used in most automobiles by describing their functionality.
How Induction Motors Work
To understand how induction motors work, you need a basic understanding of electrical currents. There are two types of currents with which you should become familiar:
- Direct Current (DC)
- Alternating Current (AC)
There are many intricate details relevant to these two types of currents. To keep matters simple, we will adhere to straightforward definitions for both.
A direct current conducts electrical energy in a single direction. This produces a constant steady flow of energy.
Most battery-operated devices use DC. Below are some examples:
- Toy cars
- Cell phones
But DC has limitations. When it comes time to power something big like a house or car, alternating current is far more useful.
An alternating current is a bit harder to understand, but here is a breakdown of how it works:
- AC involves a change in the direction of the flow of electrical energy
- The change in direction occurs in cycles
- The electrical energy will flow in one direction, then the opposite direction. That comprises one cycle.
- In general, most AC cycles occur at a fast rate of about 50 cycles per second, also known as 50Hz.
Full comprehension of these currents requires a deeper study. For now, here is what you should know:
- Provide power for houses and buildings
- Efficiently send power over long distances
- Power motors and generators
While AC power often includes a more complex system, the advantages are clear. These efficiencies are the reason that every Tesla vehicle is powered by AC induction.
How Internal-Combustion Engines Work
The name of this engine implies its function. When using an internal-combustion engine, fuel is burned within the engine itself. As this fuel burns, the resultant energy powers the car.
This fuel often comes in the form of gasoline. However, there are some alternative fuel sources as well:
- Natural Gas
Some cars offer hybrid engines. These engines use both internal combustion and electricity to operate.
The proliferation of these alternatives comes from the need to improve problems inherent to the internal-combustion engine. Most notably, internal combustion engines release emissions that have a negative impact on the environment.
These emissions include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Nitrogen oxides
- Particulate matter
- Gasoline vapors
These emissions typically exit the vehicle via the tailpipe. They then fill the air causing both environmental concern and negative effects on human health.
In response, the federal government now regulates emissions as a measure to mitigate their harmful impact. The EPA emission standards place restrictions on vehicle emissions.
Due to this regulatory action, automotive engineers have worked for decades to improve the internal-combustion engine. But while some innovators attempt to improve the current internal combustion system, others take a different approach.
Tesla Motors is one example of this divergent thinking. Rather than enhance the internal combustion engine, why not use an entirely different power system?
Advantages of Tesla Motors
Technical definitions help uncover the science that makes Tesla motors work. But what is more important is how that technology affects the driving experience.
The motors found in Tesla vehicles offer the following benefits for drivers:
- Decreased environmental impact
- Lower fuel/energy costs
- Higher fuel efficiency
- Lower maintenance
In the following sections, you’ll see how Tesla motors achieve these fantastic advantages.
Decreased Environmental Impact
Recall that the emissions from internal-combustion engines are extremely harmful. The fact that these engines burn fossil fuels is the reason for this harm.
Tesla motors rely solely on electricity. Since they don’t burn fuel to run, these electric motors produce zero emissions.
As a Tesla driver, you can feel confident that your commute does little damage to the natural world around you. Tesla motors allow for a relatively guilt-free driving experience in that regard. But they also offer performance advantages as well.
Lower Fuel/Energy Costs
If you choose to drive an electric vehicle, you will soon find that you are saving money. Statistics from some recent studies show that the difference is significant.
A 2018 study found the cost of operating an electric vehicle to be less than half the cost of operating a gas-powered car. This massive amount of savings results from the efficiency of the AC induction motor.
But the cost-efficiency of electric vehicles doesn’t end there. Some power providers give a discount to households that own electric cars.
Energy costs are the second largest expense for the average household. As such, finding ways to save money can make a serious positive impact on your budget. Purchasing a Tesla is just one great way to do that.
Higher Fuel Efficiency
This advantage relates directly to the previous point regarding fuel cost savings. A big part of why annual fuel costs are lower for electric vehicles is that these vehicles are more efficient in their use of fuel.
In 2016, the average fuel economy for new cars and trucks was 24.7 miles per gallon.
This represents a record improvement for the average fuel economy. However, that number doesn’t even come close to the capabilities of a Tesla vehicle.
How many miles per gallon do Teslas get? Below are the equivalent mpg fuel economies of Tesla models:
- Tesla Model S: 109 miles per gallon
- Tesla Model 3: 131 miles per gallon
- Tesla Model X: 96 miles per gallon
- Tesla Model Y: 121 miles per gallon
Those statistics show that the Tesla motor contributes to an exceptional level of fuel efficiency. Considering that many models come in long-rang editions, that fuel economy has the potential to be even better.
In addition to lower fuel costs, driving a Tesla means saving money on repairs as well. The cutting-edge nature of electric vehicle motors makes them extremely efficient. But they are also easier to repair.
Below are a few of the ways that Tesla motors allow for reduced maintenance costs:
- The simpler system with fewer parts leads to fewer repair needs
- Batteries call for little routine maintenance
- Electric motors require little regular maintenance
- Regenerative braking technology allows brake systems to last longer
- The reduced number of fluids results in less frequent fluid changes.
With average car repairs costing around $500, opting to drive a Tesla can dramatically reduce that cost.
Different Kinds of Tesla Motors
You now know some of the most impactful benefits of the Tesla motor. Let’s look at how that motor differs between Tesla models.
As you know, Tesla vehicles use AC induction motors. While this is true, another type of electric motor is now also common in certain Tesla models.
Permanent Magnet Synchronous Reluctance Motors
A permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motor (PMSRM) is essentially a newer version of the induction motor. The PMSRM includes a series of electromagnets. The rotor has veins of magnetic material.
Unlike an induction motor, the PMSRM rotates in-synch with the rotational speed of the rotor. Again, we have come to a technical designation that requires more research to understand. For now, let’s look at the capabilities of these two different kinds of motors:
- Induction motors have less energy efficiency but more torque
- The PMSRM has less torque but is more efficient over long ranges
In a duel motor car, the induction motor helps to build speed initially. Once that acceleration begins to flatten, the car switches to the PMSRM.
Those are the basic capabilities of each motor type. Now let’s look at how those motors work together in different models. In the following sections, we will cover some of the most common Tesla models and their capabilities.
Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S comes in two editions:
- Tesla Model S Long Range Plus
- Tesla Model S Performance
Both of these options come with two motors. One motor is dedicated to the front axle. The other is dedicated to the rear axle. This allows for all-wheel-drive capability at any time.
The motor on the front axle is a PMSRM. The motor at the rear axle is an induction motor.
This sedan has impressive acceleration. The dual motors can take you from zero to 60 in less than three seconds.
Tesla Model 3
The Tesla Model 3 comes in the following versions:
- Tesla Model 3 Standard Range
- Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus
- Tesla Model 3 Long Range
- Tesla Model 3 Performance
Like the Model S, the Model 3 is a dual-motor model. But in this case, the induction motor and the PMSRM have switched locations.
This appears to reduce acceleration to a degree. For example, the Model 3 Long Range goes from zero to 60 in just over five seconds.
While reduced, that is still a commendable acceleration rate. In addition, the Model 3 is known to have a smooth speed gain and comfortable maneuverability.
The Tesla Cybertruck is still under development and is set for production in late 2021. This model offers a stark contrast to the sedans listed above.
The Cybertruck is intended to serve as an alternative to pickup trucks. As such, this model is expected to have a towing capacity of around 14,000 lbs.
Regarding motors, there will be three options for the Cybertruck:
- Single Motor
- Dual Motor
All Cybertrucks except the single motor models are capable of all-wheel drive.
The tri-motor Cybertruck is expected to have impressive performance capabilities. The three motors will be arranged so there is one in the front and two in the back. Tesla’s projections indicate that this will result in a zero to 60 acceleration in less than three seconds.
The Tesla Semi is another model that is yet to hit the market. Despite this, we know a few facts about the Semi’s motor.
Four independent motors will be located on the rear axles. These motors will work together to maximize both acceleration and fuel economy.
Much like the newer versions of the Model 3 and Model S, the Semi will use PMSRM rather than induction motors. This makes sense considering the intended use of the Semi. As the Semi covers long distances, the PMSRM will allow for better fuel efficiency.
Tesla also claims that the four motors of the Semi will have the following benefits:
- Improved traction
- Acceleration from zero to 60 in 20 seconds
- Quick speed when traveling up steep slopes
The Semi will also have a dense battery pack. This, combined with efficient motors, produces an anticipated fuel range of 500 miles.
Limitations of Tesla Models
While the motors in Tesla vehicles offer great advantages, there are some downsides as well. Although these may be outweighed by the benefits listed above, you should be aware of some potential issues.
Some common complaints about Tesla models include the following:
- Quality control
- Charging problems
Let’s take a look at some of these disadvantages in more depth.
To be clear, many quality control complaints are not related to motor deficiencies. Instead, Tesla drivers are more likely to find problems with:
- Interior trim
- Exterior body damage
Fortunately, Tesla continues to make attempts to improve the quality control of their vehicles. In the future, this may lead to more consistency made Teslas.
There is a good reason that many electric vehicles use both gas and electrical charge as a fuel source. The truth is, there is not yet an abundance of charging stations available for Tesla users.
This means that as a Tesla owner, you need to be more careful as you plan your trips.
If you go on a long drive, you should make sure that you start with plenty of battery charge. Otherwise, you should plan your trip based on where there are charging stations available.
If you run out of charge, you are in for some trouble. You’d need to be towed by roadside assistance to the nearest charger (however, Tesla includes free roadside assistance for the first 4 years/50,000 miles).
The motors in Tesla’s vehicles are an intriguing alternative to common car engines.
These newer motors are very fuel-efficient and have little impact on the environment. Even so, no system is perfect. And Tesla’s induction motors are no exception.
As a potential buyer, you should know the pros and cons of a Tesla motor. Despite some challenging aspects, a Tesla motor may prove to be worth it. Tesla models include forward-thinking technology and may give us a glimpse into the future of everyday car travel.