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Leon Kaye headshot

Tesla Mum on Model 3 Battery Tech, Researchers Reverse Engineer

By Leon Kaye
It's not just the battery, but the drag coefficient helping the Model 3 become a hit


Tesla has released a lot of information over the specs of its much-anticipated Model 3, but the company has been largely silent on the electric car’s most important component: the battery.

Not to worry: researchers who have been intrigued by the car’s 220-mile range, along with the newly announced option for a 310-mile range Model 3, have been doing an admirable job cracking the battery’s code.

According to Axios, a Carnegie-Mellon University professor has concluded that that the standard Model 3’s battery is powered by a 53.5 kWh battery, which would make it 11 percent smaller than the smallest version used within the company’s Model S series. Those estimates are aligned with most Tesla aficionados, who have noted that the car’s features have more than enough potential to be a game-changer within the global automotive sector.

The specs have been scrutinized as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its certification for the Model 3. That report concluded that the standard Model 3’s battery has a total voltage of 230 volts, while the long-range version boasts 350 volts.

Those who have dismissed electric vehicles’ potential often do so ever the size, weight and expense of their battery packs, even though they have become lighter, smaller and more efficient in recent years. But one reason why the Model 3 stands out compared to many of its competitors is due to its performance driving against the wind.

Months before Tesla’s Model 3 first rolled off the assembly line at its Fremont, California plant, the company reportedly focused on tweaking the car’s design so it could have the lowest possible aerodynamic drag coefficient. In November 2015, Green Car Reports noted that Tesla had been aiming for a drag coefficient at or near 0.20, which had the potential to make the car the most aerodynamic vehicle ever assembled by mass production.

Tesla has come tantalizingly close, according to Carnegie-Mellon’s Venkat Viswanathan in his interview with Axios. He noted that the Model 3’s drag coefficient measures at 0.23, a notch below the Model S’s 0.24. Compare that to the Nissan Leaf, which measures its 2016 model at 0.28 – an improvement from its 2012 model, which Car and Driver measured at 0.32. A low drag coefficient not only often makes for a sleeker car, but it allows for a car to generate more power out of a smaller battery. That design advancement is just another way in which Tesla has out-designed the competition, from Mercedes to General Motors to Toyota.

Despite the hype over the Model 3’s potential to truly become the electric vehicle for the masses, the company and its CEO, Elon Musk, are still at risk of production not keeping up with demand. A failure to crank out the promised thousands of cars a week could turn off investors’ enthusiasm for the company, the stock of which had achieved a higher valuation than U.S. automakers GM and Ford.

Yesterday, Tesla announced it would raise approximately $1.5 billion via junk bonds, the high-yield but high-risk securities often attractive to investors. But that debt will be already piled on top of the debt Tesla accumulated during last year’s acquisition of SolarCity, in addition to the $1.4 billion convertible debt offering Tesla offered this spring.

Image credit: Peter Stevens/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye