Tesla’s Efficiency Edge Speaks Volumes For Its Engineering Lead

Tesla Model X

OCT 26 2018 BY MARK KANE 64

Legacy automakers struggle to catch up with Tesla’s vehicle efficiency.

Tesla is aware that new all-electric cars coming, but notes in its 3rd quarter report that more than 15 years of battery pack and powertrain development give it an edge over established carmakers, most of which engaged in EVs significantly later.

Tesla’s advantage could be worth at least a few more years of lead and the Californian company says that proof lies in efficiency.

As an example, the all-wheel-drive Tesla Model X from 2016 is rated at 3.1 miles of range per kWh according to the EPA. It’s very good for such a big and heavy vehicle with fancy doors (that delayed the project a few times) and strong performance.

Tesla Model 3 all-wheel drive raises the bar even higher to 4.1 miles of range per kWh.

In the case of the competition, current and upcoming all-wheel drive electric cars (think Jaguar I-Pace, for example) vary between 2.4 to 2.8 miles of range per kWh according to EPA. That’s not even on the level of the Model X.

We do believe that the Tesla battery and powertrain package is the best on the market and that’s what we also hear from Munro & Associates, which on the other hand notes that the body in white of the Model 3 was poorly designed (here lies the advantage of companies that existed way before Tesla).

In the longer term, Tesla and legacy automakers will improve weaknesses and become more similar to each other, just like many ICE models and brands become similar to each others over the years. But for now, Tesla is leading on the side of efficiency, battery and powertrain.

From Tesla’s Q3 earnings report:

“Battery pack and powertrain are at the heart of our vehicles. Over the past 15 years, we have worked hard to make the best powertrain anywhere on the market. By 2016, Model X energy efficiency was 3.1 miles of EPA range per kWh. This is an extremely important metric as it allows an EV to reach a long EPA range even when using a relatively small, inexpensive battery pack. With Model 3, energy efficiency improved dramatically to 4.1 EPA miles per kWh, the highest efficiency for any all-wheel drive EV. To put this in context, our current or upcoming AWD (2019) competition is expected to achieve 2.4 to 2.8 miles of EPA range per kWh. Model 3 has far better energy efficiency while also providing the quickest acceleration (0-60 mph in as little as 3.3 seconds) and the highest top speed (155 mph). Additionally, the curb weight of Model 3 long range RWD is only 3% heavier than its gas powered equivalents.”

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64 Comments on "Tesla’s Efficiency Edge Speaks Volumes For Its Engineering Lead"

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Munro says Tesla has a 4 year lead in ev technology. I think that is about right. Another thing they have is a dedicated workforce and a visionary leader and board who fervently believe in the company and what it is doing. So I don’t think they will rest on their laurels and squander that lead, since their mission is not complete.

There is no way its 4 years. Most of what tesla does is copyable. The reason it may be 4 years is legacy auto makers move slowly and tesla keeps improving. Now with positive cash flow, they can probably hire the lexus, bmw, mercedes, hyundai, and audi experts and improve those things it falls behind in the segments.

Many of their engineers are former Audi, VW, etc., employees, so it’s not like Tesla is clueless about building cars. Further, they are the safest ever in US sales history, so who’s to say that the Model 3 is so inefficiency built?

With the number of teslas that have caught fire, or exploded, or just have fallen apart, that statement does not pass the smell test. Now EV’s in GENERAL are safe, but Teslas tend to catch fire when nearly new much more often than the average EV. And it can’t just be bad luck that Autopilot equipped cars tend to drive into buildings, and run into highway barricades or drive under semi trucks, decapitating the driver. When articles mention that point, it is IMMEDIATELY stated that it is 100% the driver’s fault. I had no idea people who could afford an expensive car are so incompetent, if I was to believe that, which of course, I do not. Its the exact same situation as decades ago with Audi 5000. ALL THE BIG EXPERTS, (including the lawyers and other questionable types) stated it was scientifically proven that it had to be the owner’s fault, again – being smart enough to afford an expensive car, yet supposedly too dumb to understand what an accelerator or brake pedal is. Meanwhile real, common sense owners of elevated parking garages put up signs stating ‘No Audi 5000s allowed’. THEN it was revealed years later that the… Read more »


Let’s not discount their lack of outsourcing. This actually ads huge value with their ability to control and change many aspects up to a year faster than an old car company.
Outsourcing saves “cost” only if measured on a single order of a single piece of a contractual time obligation.
Terrible if you want to deliver the best product.
Kinda funny how on China all the giant companies are going back to the roots where huge corporations own their entire supply chain!! Funny how successful they are…

Pundits always bring up the advantages that legacy car makers have, but it seems like Tesla is able to engineer their way to being at least competent in about 18 months (e.g., mass produced sedan production went from 0 in July of 2017 to close to the volume of a Ford F150 factory). GM/LG is probably the only other company that can come close to matching Tesla EV efficiency (my gen 2 Volt is a solid 20% more efficient than my gen 1). BMW and Nissan had a decent head-start on most companies, but they seem to have managed to squander that competitive advantage. My guess is that companies like Fiat are so far behind they will probably just have to start buying drivetrains from someone like LG.

would Tesla ever sell batteries and drivetrains to fiat?

they did it before to Merc and Toyota, so sure, IF they have capacity for it, and frankly they don’t …. so not gonna happen in the future imho

No, Tesla Needs All the Batteries & Drive Trains That they can produce for themselves..

Missing the Joker’s comments (Bob Lutz) on this.
He was very vocal that Tesla didn’t have Battery, PowerTrain, Technology, or Software advantage over anybody. hmmm….

they are headed for the graveyard too… Oh, wait, he was talking about himself?

No offense to the guy, he did a lot during his time, but he needs to understand that things are different now and Tesla has a successful plan.

sure he helped bankrupt GM and got the government to help bail him out.

“Engineering lead” is correct.
And yet Bob Lutz maintains that Tesla has “No advantages whatsoever”. This is only one of many advantages with Tesla.

All the endless criticism of the I-Pace here is a bit irrelevant. It has more than enough range for most people.

That is true, once you can go over 200 miles a charge the way the car will be used becomes more important. I am sure Jaguar and Porsche should have no problem selling every single EV they make. However, their production plans are too little to affect Tesla’s sales.

Nah, I still can’t drive one to Chicago without going like 80 miles out of my way to Madison. Minneapolis is out of the question. 2 years from now maybe I will be able to, but as of now Tesla is the only long range EV that would work for me. I drive a Clarity PHEV now for that reason, although I think I would have gotten Model 3 MR had I known it was coming and so soon.

If you’re ok paying more over the life of the vehicle to drive the same distance and spending longer on every road trip to recharge.

I love Tesla, don’t get me wrong. However Bjoern in a newish video just compared the efficiencies of the X vs the I-pace. The I-pace came out atop at low speeds. There was a toss up at constant 90 km/h.

Sounds like it will make a good city car. On the other hand on the Autobahn which we hear so much about https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WT5VmC-Ze3w the Tesla does better.

Sure, the 5-seat I-Pace does comparatively well at low speeds, speeds where EVs aren’t challenged in their range… almost as good as the appreciably larger and much heavier 7-seat Model X.

Tesla’s cars are optimized for maximum highway range, and yes that does come at the expense of range in low-speed, stop-and-go driving… where a long-range EV is very, very unlikely to run out of range.Contrariwise, how does he I-Pace compare to the Model X at highway speed? Hmmm… not so well.

Pretty silly to do a head-to-head match between the I-Pace and the Model X. They’re not at all in the same class, even if Jaguar wants us to think so!

Sure. Let’s just go with some guy’s uncontrolled homemade test vs. the epa standard.

Makes sense to me.

I heard some guy went 400 miles in a Bolt, so maybe we should all just assume that’s now the range.

Sure makes things easier.

Up until the Model 3, Tesla was lagging in powertrain compared to the industry because of the induction machines used in the S and X. However, the Model 3 finally brings PM machine to their stable. Now with the SiC FETs, they are leading.

Aerodynamics are maybe the biggest advantage they have in efficiency, too.

“Up until the Model 3, Tesla was lagging in powertrain compared to the industry because of the induction machines used in the S and X.”

Yeah, we can see how poorly Tesla did, from all the BEVs that other auto makers made that out-performed the Model S and the Model X.

Oh, wait… 🙄

The advantages or disadvantages of induction motors vs. permanent magnet motors have been greatly exaggerated. Tesla more than made up for a very slight loss of efficiency in the motor with a more efficient inverter design, certainly years in advance of what other EV makers are using.

The Model 3 shows an even more efficient EV powertrain; Tesla remains perhaps 7 years ahead of other EV makers in EV powertrain technology. I don’t see any other auto maker catching up soon.

I never said Tesla did “poorly”, just that the peak efficiency of their induction machine is less than PM machines used by everyone else. That is no longer the case with the Model 3.

Other automakers choose not to make high end BEVs, but that has nothing to do with the efficiency of a PM machine relative to an induction machine.

Other automakers, like Toyota, have been electrifying their cars for a long time. They obviously are lagging big time in making BEVs, but know how to make an efficient motor and power electronics.

We need to separate OEM’s desire to make EVs with their ability to make electrified cars. They are two different things.

Ok. Just give us examples of any vehicles of comparable size and performance with bw]ether efficiency.

Oh wait. There are exactly zero. Even 5 years later.

This is a discussion about efficiency, and there are a number of EVs with similar efficiencies (better wording is actually economy). Unlike in an ICE car, you don’t have to trade efficiency for power in an EV.

I was referring specifically to the motor and power electronics, anyways.

“Unlike in an ICE car, you don’t have to trade efficiency for power in an EV.”

This simply isn’t so. It’s true the differences in energy efficiency between different BEVs are much less important, because electric motors (both inductive and permanent magnet) are extremely efficient when compared to an ICEngine, and because electricity is cheaper than gasoline. But even among BEVs, it’s easy to see that an underpowered, low-performance car like the Ioniq Electric is more energy efficient than the much more powerful, much higher-performance Model 3.

Sorry, less power does not automatically mean greater efficiency. That is a gross oversimplification and just not true.

Tesla uses a switcher reluctance motor in Model 3. Its called a permanent magnet switched reluctance motor as there are tiny permanent magnets on the stator side to control the magnetic fields to tame the torque ripples that have traditionally plagued such motors.
Induction motors saved on costly rare earth magnets while having cooling issues. Permanent magnet (synchronous motors) could not passively coast and the magnets also increased cost while having advantages in regen (full) stop without using any brake. Induction motors need lots of copper whose prices may go up with popularity of EVs.
The reluctance motor uses shaped Iron rotors instead of copper rotors and have less heating issues and are more efficient overall in generating power and reducing energy consumption.
While induction motors and synchronous motors are easier to control, switched reluctance ones are tougher to control and makes the control algorithms complicated. Apparently Tesla has mastered how to control the PMSR motors.

Exactly. Thank you. Too many comments with too little understanding.

On the road, Teslas are very efficient for their side and weight.

But parked, they are still by far the worst with vampire drain of 1% / day being claimed as normal. That’s about one kWh a day which adds up quick if you don’t put a lot of miles on your car. Even if you drive 10,000 miles a year vampire drain results in about a 10% hit to efficiency.

No other plug-in has this level of vampire drain that I’m aware of.

No other plug-in EV stays “awake” at all times, able to respond instantly to commands from the driver’s smart phone, either.

It’s a trade-off.

A BMW i3 responds to commands from BMW’s smartphone app yet its Li-ion battery pack is electrically disconnected and asleep while parked thus not losing any charge other than from the very low self-discharge rate typical of Li-ion cells. Smartphone communication is handled by the 12 V system, not the high-voltage system, so there’s no need to keep the high-voltage system awake like Tesla does.

I’m not an expert on this subject, but I’d bet that the i3 can’t do anywhere near the number of things any Tesla MS/MX/M3 car can via a smart phone app. If my understanding is correct, you’re comparing apples to oranges.

This is not true as my son’s Model 3 goes into a deep sleep during the night and work day barely using any energy. This is trackable with tools like TeslaFI.COM which allows you to turn ‘sleep’ features on … ie. it won’t wake the car for logging at certain times you an set.

Relatively current top list, based on average MPGe:

1 – 2017 Hyundai IONIQ @ 136 MPGe
2 – 2018 Prius Prime @ 133 MPGe
3 – 2018 Hyundai Kona @ 126 MPGe
tied – 2018 Tesla Model 3 @ 126 MPGe
4 – 2016 BMW i3 BEV w/60 Ah battery pack @ 124 MPGe
5 – 2017 Chevy Bolt @ 119 MPGe

While I will be forever greatful that Tesla set the image of EVs as “cool” vs the early Prius crowd… plenty of carmakers make a good EV these days. There is no such thing as being “years ahead” on tech these days, utterly false. Automotive tech can be copied/duplicated/improved in a few weeks at most. If it is a feature that sells, it will be quickly reverse engineered and rolled out in every brand within a model year or two (example: active cruise control, lane keep assist, etc.).

You a short sighted here.
Ionic has almost a third of Model 3 battery and much smaller car. Prius is just a fing prius. Small and even smaller battery. It should not even be on an ev list. Kona is definitely interesting and looks promising.

Tesla is pretty far ahead in their low-cobalt battery chemistry and operating software, as well as the proprietary silicon that runs their neural net. If the majors hadn’t been so arrogant about EVs and started development sooner, the gap wouldn’t be so large.

“There is no such thing as being “years ahead” on tech these days, utterly false.”

Nonsense. Claiming the Hyundai Ioniq Electric is more advanced than the Model 3 is like claiming the classic VW Beetle was “more advanced” than the Porsche 911, because the Beetle had higher MPG.

If Tesla made a BEV with a powertrain that was as weak and under-performing as the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, you can be sure it would get even better energy efficiency than the Ioniq Electric.

Tesla LR Model 3 RWD (single motor): 0-60 in 4.6 seconds
Hyundai Ioniq Electric: 0-60 in 8.1 seconds

Any questions?

As far as battery tech, credit where credit is due, they have figured out how to make the most kwh for the least $… “better” is quite subjective, we would have to talk about 2-C based cycle expectancy, thermal runaway potential, string resistance of cylindrical vs prismatic cells, etc… there is no free lunch in battery tech (yet).

As far as major auto brands choosing to not incenerate billions of dollars pushing EVs into production while the primary EV components were still in developmental stages (motors, batteries, charging, etc), good business practices maybe? Producing an EV with over 200 miles of range for a sub $40k MSRP for mass market adoption… looks like plenty of the majors are getting there first.

I’m not trying to diss your ride, I’m an EV lover not a hater, but there are other viable options out there. Most importantly, those options are growing and getting better too. “Articles” (because I would be roasted if I called it “advertising”) like this one make it seem like there is some wide gap in the tech.

It’s not just the battery pack, or perhaps not even primarily the battery pack. Tesla has more advanced tech in its motors, its inverters, and other parts of the EV powertrain. In particular, Tesla’s inverters are years ahead of anybody else’s in improved efficiency, at least according to what I’ve read.

Tesla is also far ahead of other auto makers in integrating everything to work well together, and that includes the various components of the powertrain. I think the saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” applies more to Tesla’s cars than just about anything else in the entire world!

Exactly … The whole is also only as reliable as the weakest piece and that is where Tesla’s EV propulsion architecture shines over the competition.

I would not brag too much regarding their propulsion architecture just yet, although to date, the Model 3 does seem to be an improvement over the “S”, of which many owners have had to have them changed out as defective while under warranty. Efficiency-wise, as the previous commenter’s table showed, the efficiency is right about what the average EV model is. If there is any manufacturer that can claim STELLAR efficiency performance it appears to be Toyota. I would like to hear much more about current ‘Vampire Drains’ of Teslas as they appear to be all over the map – seeing as some owners say it is negligible and others say it is really bad, even including the model 3. The one efficiency test I have seen is where an “S” owner declared his car honestly to be between 82 and 83% efficient on power in to the car versus power out as viewed from the touch screen logs. How much of that was car charger inefficiency and how much was Vampire Losses was unspecified, and it didn’t matter to this owner what the exact cause of the loss was since the effect on his utility bill was the same… Read more »

Making an electric motor ‘weak’ – I presume by that lower torque and power – does not make it more efficient by default. Often the opposite.

In this discussion we are comparing efficiency. That is the main metric motors are judged on in industry. The power produced is a design consideration based on size.

Smaller is more efficient to a point (max eff @ ~50% load)

I agree that the Ioniq Electric isn’t more energy-efficient because it has a weaker motor. The point is that the IE is optimized for energy efficiency, and its relatively poor 0-60 speed is a good indication of that. Optimization for energy efficiency means, for example, the IE’s fixed gear ratio is optimized for that rather than for good performance, in sharp contrast to the Tesla Model 3… which achieves both superior performance and very good energy efficiency. Of course, the IE is also several hundred pounds lighter, which also helps with energy efficiency.

Curb weights:
Ioniq Electric: 3164 lbs
Tesla LR Model 3 RWD: 3838 lbs

Compare the tire sizes for those cars. Non of them are sports sedans. Wait till Tesla produces the SR.

No, the features you mentioned are commonplace because most of them are developed by parts suppliers. Legacy manufacturers are often assemblers of technology purchased elsewhere, other than (sometimes) transmissions and engines. There is something that cannot be replicated easily: an integrated fully software driven platform, with a powerful central computer and a full vehicle real-time operating system and 100% control over all source code. This means that the endpoint hardware can be very ‘dumb’ and inexpensive and the brains are in the central system. Big software projects are notoriously difficult and have bugs for years upon years—Tesla’s been working on it for a decade at least. It takes that long, hiring top level programmers available in Palo Alto regularly—and not Detroit, Stuttgart or Tokyo—and continuous, strenuous improvement, debugging and refactoring. Most cars have many boxes and small ECU’s of their own distributed because they are built by the parts suppliers and sold in bundle. Let’s say there’s a lighting box, an airbag box, a stereo box, a parking sensor box, a seat adjuster box, a phone-home box, a transmission box, an engine box, etc….. There’s no guaranteed central commonality or ability to push updates to them all. Musk as usual,… Read more »

Not only that, but managing to make the more efficient switched reluctance motors work has been a huge advance with the Model 3.

There are others with equivalent efficiency. Heck, the Fords from 2013 were 3.75mi/kWh. Hyundai is even better, they just don’t sell in the volumes that Tesla does. It’s a pity they don’t promote them more.

What about the aerodynamic design of the Model S, X, 3 ?

A sleek nose with no grille and the sloped rear window make Tesla’s coefficient of drag much lower especially when the Model X is compared to other SUVs with a (near) vertical rear window.

Hint: a ‘boxy’ shape and the wiper on the rear window are dead giveaways to an inefficient aerodynamic design.

Both Tesla’s aero designs and their EV powertrains show significant advancements over their would-be competitors. Those are two of the most important reasons why Tesla does not yet have any real competitors among BEVs… a random video from Bjørn Nyland notwithstanding.

Uh, the Chevy Bolt gets 4.17 miles/kw based on advertised range and battery size (57 kw).

Although legally required to derate their 60 kwh battery to officially 57 kwh to denote, supposedly, the LONG TERM capacity of the battery, I’m glad my 33,000 miles under its belt BOLT ev to be still over 59 kwh, and I’m still waiting for the time, apparently many tens of thousands of miles away, where my BOLT battery is no longer officially ‘new’ but has just been ‘broken in’.

It is important to note that the EPA MPGe numbers are measured from the wall, so on board charger efficiency matters a lot for this number. A less efficient charger has no impact on range, but it does consume more energy.

It specifically does NOT include vampire losses, which in certain Teslas can be considerable, and, I haven’t seen the CHARGING RATE used – which almost always makes a difference. And it also depends on what percentage of charging the car owner does quick charging. Certainly fast charging or supercharging any car produces horrid efficiencies. At the Canadian Ev Society meeting this week, one BOLT ev owner, who lives in an apartment and does ALL his charging from public facilities (Canada has far more infrastructure on their side of the boarder), he says 90% of his charging is CCS. From a raw electricity usage to km driven, I’m sure the number is horrible. I’ve seen Teslas at superchargers (where there was only 1 “S”) – where I asked the owner what his charging rate was right this minute, and he stated ‘100 kw’, so I immediately read the utility’s revenue meter and came out with 121 kw. Of course only a fraction of that 100 kw was effectively charging the battery since much was being dissipated as useless heat at the car. The other 21 kw was mostly being dissipated at the Corral. But almost all efficiency discussions talk about figures… Read more »

My Chevy Spark EV gets over 6 miles per kWh. It can also Fast Charge . It seats more than most people ever have in their car (4) and the price is so low that Chevy stopped making them in 2016. They even have liquid cooled batteries for long long life.

Tesla has an architecture that’s meant for electric vehicles while legacy automakers have legacy architecture.

Tesla’s Model3-LR rear-drive is EPA-rated at 130 MPGe, much better than the 116 MPGe of the AWD version. I guess Hyundai will be forced to struggle to catch-up, from it’s legacy rating of… 136 MPGe!? Or BMW i3 from… 133 MPGe.(*) To be fair, Tesla’s efficiency _is_ better than all others tested by EPA. But maybe the subtitle should be “legacy car makers struggle to make a matching _AWD_ efficiency”, as the article is really only about AWD cars. ((*)but seriously, how does a funky shape like the i3 get such good efficiency?)

According to fueleconomy.gov, efficiency numbers for 2018 Model 3 are 260 Wh/mi (or 3.8 mi/kWh) for rear wheel drive and 290 Wh/mi (or 3.4 mi/kWh) for dual motor and performance Model 3 versions. So while both numbers are better than 3.1 mi/kWh, neither are the 4.1 mi/kWh Tesla claims.

I don’t agree the structure was poorly designed. Munro proposed replacing the Aluminum back of the car with a glass fiber structure but they forgot that glass fiber is craking abruptly in a crash situation where Aluminum bends and absorbs energy.

The Kona pretty neck and neck with Model 3 despite being a CUV. I fail to see how Tesla is lightyears ahead.

Thank Tesla for using distance/kw the only logical measurement.
Always having a km/kw it’s kinda useful for the 6.7 billion out of 7 billion people in the world;)