Video: Tesla Model S "Alpha" Prototype Previewed; Coming to Detroit

By · January 06, 2011

2012 Tesla Model S

After writing yesterday that Tesla thinks the Model S will be profitable, has better batteries than the Nissan LEAF and is rumored to already exist in "alpha" prototype stage (can you tell Tesla has a Silicon Valley heritage?), the company has come out today with a series of three videos highlighting various innovative aspects of the Model S alpha. Plus, according to an article over at Wired, Tesla in fact has three alphas built and will be showing one off at the Detroit Auto Show next week.

Could it be that Tesla is really starting to solidify their position and may just pull off their goal of being the "next great American automaker"?

The alpha builds use bodies that were built by an unnamed supplier in Michigan and were hand-assembled in Palo Alto, but at some point this year Tesla will start producing "beta" builds (total computer geeks there at Tesla, no?) that are essentially pre-production testing models and are assembled at their new Fremont, Calif., factory in a trial run of their mass-production assembly line. The Fremont factory is under consideration as the site of final assembly for the upcoming Toyota RAV4 EV with a Tesla drivetrain.

The videos below are chock full of interesting information and provide a good look at the underlying engineering of the externally-gorgeous Model S. Tesla really seems to have done a splendid job of taking advantage of the lack of an engine and conventional drivetrain—adding stiffness and safety as a result. Because of the position of the heavy batteries (almost half the weight of the car), the Model S has low center of gravity and Tesla expects that the rear brakes will see a greater use and demand than they do in a conventional vehicle. In light of this the rear brakes and suspension system, as shown in the videos, are much beefier.

In the videos Tesla also says that because of the Model S' incredibly efficient use of space, it is possible to put a third row of occupants in the vehicle. While that might be true, given what I saw in the video, I don't think it could be used by anything but little rugrats.

Lastly Tesla shows off the underside of the Model S and the position of the battery pack, saying that Tesla's engineering team has figured out a way to take advantage of the stiffness of the pack—resulting in a torsional rigidity more than three times greater than most high performance sports cars.

Check out the videos and let us know what you think in the comments.

Tesla Vehicle Engineering - Part 1 from Tesla Motors on Vimeo.

Tesla Vehicle Engineering - Part 2 from Tesla Motors on Vimeo.

Tesla Vehicle Engineering - Part 3 from Tesla Motors on Vimeo.

It seems to me that Tesla's engineers and designers should be given amazing kudos for their effort, but I worry that by using space so efficiently Tesla is making it hard to service the vehicle—or at least make it a VERY expensive endeavor.

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