The Tesla Model 3 has completely redefined the electric auto market. While some complain that the build quality is questionable, it is by far the most affordable and sleekest electric car on the market today. Tesla is consistently pushing the standards of vehicle engineering to keep these cars racing to the pinnacle of the market.
The Tesla Model 3 has two configurations: rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. The difference between them is motor placement. The RWD version is powered by a single motor mounted on the rear axle. The AWD versions are powered by a motor on the front axle and a synchronized motor on the rear axle.
Unlike traditional drive trains, there is no driveshaft on the Tesla to transfer the power from rear to front. Instead, onboard computers synchronize two separate motors to drive the all-wheel-drive car forward.
Synchronized Motors Deliver All-Wheel Drive
In extremely simplified terms, traditional combustion engines require a quite complicated drivetrain to transfer rotational torque from the engine to the asphalt. Additionally, four-wheel-drive vehicles must have a transfer case to split the engine’s power to the front and rear driveshafts through the differentials.
Many car enthusiasts are surprised to learn that the Tesla Model 3 is all-wheel drive even though it does not have a transmission, transfer case, front or rear driveshafts, or front or rear differentials. All of the usual trappings of all-wheel drive vehicles have been scrapped, yet the Tesla performance is superior to nearly every other car on the planet.
Additionally, where other four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles typically have decreased on-road performance due to the added weight and gear transfer trappings to get the wheels turning, the Tesla performs better in the AWD configuration. The spicy Performance version goes from zero to 60 in a mind-blowing 3.1 seconds. That’s fast enough to win any drag race, but with the safety and response of four powered wheels.
Tesla can achieve all-wheel drive easily because the electric engine delivers 100% of available power at all times. There is no transmission needed to ramp up torque output. Instead, motors are directly wired to the available power, then operated synchronously through the onboard computers.
It is important to note that Tesla vehicles are designed to have the motor mounted directly to the axle of the wheels that it is powering. This is vastly different from combustion engines, where a centralized engine produces power which is sent to the various wheels through interlinked driveline parts.
- A single motor (rear-wheel drive) powers the base version of the Model 3.
- Dual-motors (all-wheel drive) power the two upgraded versions of the Model 3. One motor is mounted on the front axle and one on the rear axle.
- This makes it possible to create a trimotor or even a quad motor configuration for increased sport response. While Tesla has not done this yet, it opens the door to individual wheel drive, with one motor powering each wheel.
The dual-motor configuration gives Tesla vehicles superior handling and response as compared to rear-wheel-drive configurations. The onboard computer calculates the wheel response needed to handle driving conditions in as fast as 10 milliseconds. This greatly increases driving in rain and snow because the computer can compensate for the loss of traction before the driver realizes that there is a problem.
Tesla’s Motor Sports One Moving Part
Internal combustion engines need many constant piston strokes to gradually build up pressure to power the car. Additionally, they need transmissions, transfer cases, and other such trappings to get going. Of course, building up that energy to get the car rolling causes a loss of energy in heat expenditure and such so that the overall performance degrades between the engine and the asphalt.
The electric vehicle motor is very much like the old steam engines in that all available torque is built up and ready to be expended in forward rotation and acceleration from the start. Additionally, there is a similarity in the fact that there are very few moving parts to waste any of that energy between the source of power and the wheels.
- Nikola Tesla invented a new turbine engine in 1912 that had only a single moving part. This turbine put out 200 horsepower on a single axle shaft. While his design was seen as impractical at the time, and he was forced to abandon it, this concept was resurrected nearly 100 years later by the engineers at Tesla.
- While Nikola Tesla’s engine was powered by steam or some other pressurized fuel, the new Tesla engine operates on a similar concept, but it is powered by the electricity available in the connected battery bank.
- Each motor puts rotational energy directly into the axle that is connected to the two wheels. Thus there is minimal energy loss and maximum power output directly to the asphalt.
- Tesla uses onboard computers to control the torque output of each motor independently. This greatly increases on-road safety. Instead of waiting for a wheel to break loose before transferring power, the computers can sense a loss of torque on one wheel and compensate in a fraction of a second.
This AWD design typically incorporates only two motors, one for each pair of wheels. There is nothing to connect the two motors. They function independently, but they are redundant and synchronized. This also increases the safety in case of motor failure. If one motor fails, the other will keep the car moving at reduced horsepower.
Tesla Motor Configurations and Possibilities
The lack of additional moving parts means that, in theory, Tesla can configure ultra-high-performance vehicles with more than one motor per axle.
For instance, the Tesla Model S Plaid has one motor on the front axle to power both front wheels and two motors on the rear that power each rear wheel independently. This configuration gives the Plaid a 1,020 hp output and a zero to 60 in a blistering 1.99 seconds.
- The rear-wheel-drive configuration has the motor mounted at the rear axle. Rear-wheel drive is typically preferred for cars that are set up for racing performance. Rear-wheel drive provides better handling and performance.
- The all-wheel-drive configurations have independent motors that are mounted singly at the rear axle and the front axle. Because they are not connected, there are fewer moving parts to wear and break. Additionally, they can be controlled independently by the CPU for faster compensation and performance.
- There is a possibility in the future for true four-wheel-drive Tesla models that feature independently controlled motors for each wheel. This type of configuration could offer the best off-road and on-road performance and control available in the world.
The future is bright for Tesla vehicles. The possibilities are exciting, but they are persistently limited by production shortfalls and quality concerns. As the company works out the production kinks, we will see more visionary Tesla vehicles come online in the future.
Tesla’s motor configurations have completely changed the global opinion on the viability of electric vehicles. While the design can seem simplistic, this is the most sustainable way to approach engineering these new vehicles. Fewer moving parts mean less wear and tear on motor parts, giving them an overall longer lifespan. This greatly decreases the cost-per-mile of the vehicle.
While there is a rear-wheel-drive version of the Model 3 available, buyers are most pleased with the Long Range model with dual-motor all-wheel drive and a nicely increased range and horsepower output.