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HomeON THE COVERThe Quickest Production Car Ever

The Quickest Production Car Ever

Enter Tesla Model S Plaid |

Who could ever have imagined that in the 50th year of the Technoking of Tesla in 2021, the quickest production car ever would be a four-door family sedan, equally well suited for taking the kids to school, as it is for blowing away Bugattis, Ferraris and Lamborghinis on a drag strip, or leaving McLarens and Porsches in its wake on any racetrack? That Technoking of Tesla is Elon Musk, and that four-door family sedan is the new all-electric Tesla Model S Plaid. Welcome to the great reset.

One would expect the unveiling of the worlds quickest ever production car, a hypercar in every sense of the word, to be a spectacular extravaganza, worthy of all the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood blockbuster, an epoch-making event hosted in front of the global paparazzi. But that’s not how Tesla operates. Tesla shunned the mainstream media in favour of a relatively small, but extremely influential group of the most prominent YouTubers and Twitterati, and the only VIPs in attendance were the first twenty reservation holders, who received their brand-new Model S Plaids at the event.

Onstage, Elon Musk was his usual exuberant self, stuttering through a short presentation that sent the audience, including a massive worldwide YouTube audience, into raptures.

Here is what the inimitable Elon Musk, CEO and Technoking of Tesla, had to say about the new Model S Plaid, followed by our interpretation and additional information garnered from the owner’s manual of the quickest production car in history.

The Mission

“What we really wanted to achieve here, that’s important to the future of sustainable energy, is to show that an electric car is the best car, hands down. So, it’s got to be clear, sustainable energy cars can be the fastest cars, the safest cars, and the most kickass cars in every way. And that’s why we did the Plaid. Just to show that, hands down, this is the way to go.”

Clearly, the world does not need another hypercar costing millions of dollars to bolster the insatiable greed of the super-wealthy. But Musk is correct in saying that the world does need proof that electric vehicles (EVs) can outperform the best internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, not only with brutal performance, but especially in terms of safety and efficiency. In this respect, the Model S Plaid, especially since it’s not a typical two-seat sports car, blows every preconceived notion about EVs out of the water.

Plaid Speed

“We made huge improvements from the original (Model S) car. Now with the Plaid, we’ve broken the two-second barrier, if you will. No production car has ever done 0-60 mph (0-96.5 km/h) in under 2 seconds. And this is a four-door car that seats five adults. This is what I call ‘limits of physical engineering’. It’s like, what does physics say we can do because physics is the law and everything else is a recommendation. We have gone Plaid Speed.”

Before the unveiling of the Model S Plaid, many experts suggested that no production car could ever accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than two seconds, based on physics related to tyres’ adhesion to a road surface. Shortly after its unveiling, Motor Trend tested the Model S Plaid and recorded a time of 1.98 seconds, something no other production car has ever been able to achieve. And prior to the unveiling, during the shooting of an episode for the popular Jay Leno’s Garage, Leno himself was present when the new Tesla Model S Plaid recorded a time of 9.23 seconds over the quarter mile, and a new world record for a production car. Leno himself recorded a time of 9.247 seconds, “with the air conditioner on,” as he describes it. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Model S Plaid is in equal record-breaking form on the racetrack, but we’ll have to wait for official times to confirm these claims. Elon Musk hinted that Tesla may take the new Model S Plaid back to the Nürburgring, where their development prototype vehicle set an unofficial record for a four-door production sedan in 2020.

For those in search of internal-organ-rearranging acceleration, the tri-motor, 750 kW Model S Plaid, with 1,424 Nm of torque, is equipped with Drag Strip Mode, which preconditions the battery and drive unit to ideal operating temperatures for timed acceleration. Launch Control requires a few additional steps to activate via the touch screen, and after a few minutes, once the vehicle goes into ‘Cheetah Stance’, with the front of the car lowered, it is ready for an almighty launch. The car will remain in Drag Strip Mode for three hours, which keeps the Battery within an optimal temperature range.

According to Musk, the new Model S Plaid is capable of sequential launches, similar to the Porsche Taycan, and peak acceleration generates more than 1.2 Gs, which is 20% faster than free falling.

Even after launching the car, there is no subsiding of the G-force as the Model S Plaid is the first production car ever to maintain a power curve in excess of 1,000 horsepower (746 kW) from standstill through to its top speed of 200 mph (322 km/h).

King of the Range

In addition to crazy performance, it’s also got a long range. We’ve also improved the supercharging speed so you can get 187 miles (300 km) of range in 15 minutes.”

Until recently, no other manufacturer had been able to match the original 2012 Model S range, which was 430 km. However, over the subsequent nine-year period Tesla continued to improve the range across its model lineup, continuing to stretch its already considerable lead over its competitors.

With a drag coefficient of just 0.208 cd, The Tesla Model S Plaid has the lowest drag coefficient of any production car ever, including all sports cars and supercars ever produced. Musk also points out that the quoted figure is the actual drag coefficient of the car, including the wheels in motion, which is not always included in the quoted figure of all manufacturers. Since the wheels cause incremental drag, a low drag coefficient is crucial for extending range on EVs.

Using an improved version of the same 1865 battery cells that housed the energy for the original Model S, along with a new and improved battery pack architecture, the new Model S Plaid boasts a range of 628 km, with the new Model S Long Range eking out 652 km. Both these models should break the 700 km range barrier once tested on the WLTP protocol used in Europe.

To put this into perspective, the new Tesla Model S Plaid has nearly double the range of its nearest competitor, the Porsche Taycan Turbo S (323 km).

Power Density

“We have an all-new battery pack, and then something we’re really proud of, the new carbon-sleeved rotors for the motor. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that there’s a production electric motor that has a carbon overwrapped rotor.”

Given the varying rates of thermal expansion of copper and carbon, manufacturing a carbon-sleeved rotor requires the copper to be wound at extremely high tension. For this purpose, Tesla had to design the machine that manufactures the rotor. The carbon-sleeved rotor allows for a super-efficient electromagnetic field and more than 20,000 rpm, which enables Model S Plaid to use a single-speed transmission from zero to 322 km/h. The new electric motor is an awe-inspiring work of engineering, light enough to lift it by hand, and yet so power dense as to accelerate a two-tonne car from zero to 60 mph in less than two seconds.

To put this into perspective, Tesla’s new electric motor with its carbon-sleeved rotor has nearly six times the power density of a Formula One internal combustion engine.

Via Twitter, Musk hints that Tesla may have an even more advanced electric motor in development. “The Plaid carbon-wrapped motor is arguably the most advanced motor on Earth outside of maybe a lab somewhere,” Musk tweeted. “We have to keep some secrets! We have a few ideas for increasing torque and maximum rpm even further for the new Roadster. Definitely fun and exciting engineering ahead!”

Octovalve Squared

“We also have the latest and greatest heat pump, which is basically the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system for the car.”

Sandy Munro, the teardown expert and CEO of Munro & Associates, called Tesla’s octovalve “genius”, describing it as “arguably one of the most advanced valving systems ever created for an automobile.” Elon Musk, while remaining mum on the presence of the revolutionary octovalve in the new Model S Plaid, revealed that the new heat pump and HVAC system delivers 30% more cold weather range and requires 50% less energy for cabin heating in freezing conditions. The radiator, which is twice the size of the previous iteration, is more effective at heat rejection, thereby enabling sequential acceleration on the dragstrip, or hot laps on a racetrack.

Safety First

“Engineered for maximum safety, our aspiration for this car is (to achieve) the lowest probability of injury of any car ever tested. With the Model S Plaid, you have a car that is faster, quicker than any sports car, faster than any Porsche, safer than any Volvo. That’s insane!”

The four cars with the lowest probability of injury ever tested by NHTSA in the US (similar to Euro NCAP) are all Teslas, which must give Tesla reason for optimism that the new Model S, fitted with even more safety features, would become the safest car ever tested by NHTSA.

In addition to eight airbags, the Model S boasts industry-leading passive safety features due to larger and better-optimised crumple zones, and a battery pack that reinforces the lower periphery of the car for enhanced side impact protection.

Tesla also developed its own industry-leading software required to run a laundry list of active safety features, from emergency braking to lane departure aversion, and everything in between. 

Tesla also happens to be the only manufacturer, as far as we know, that offers something akin to a ‘black box’ used in commercial aeroplanes. Model S is equipped with an event data recorder (EDR), which records data to better understand how the vehicle’s systems perform in certain collision or near-collision situations, such as an airbag deployment or colliding with a road obstacle. 

In addition, the Model S is equipped with electronic modules that monitor and record data from various vehicle systems, including the motor, Autopilot components, battery, braking and electrical systems. This data may be used by Tesla for multiple purposes, including potentially resolving issues remotely by simply reviewing the vehicle’s data log. Tesla’s telematics system wirelessly transmits vehicle information to Tesla periodically, which also ensures certifiable vehicle maintenance.

For quality assurance and to support the continuous improvement of advanced features such as Autopilot, the Model S also collects analytics, road segment, diagnostic, and vehicle usage data and transmits this data to Tesla for analysis, which enables Tesla to improve their products by learning from the experience attained through the billions of miles that Tesla vehicles have driven. 

Less is More

“We’ve obviously made a lot of refinements to the exterior. And we’ve completely redone the interior. I think once you drive the new Model S, it really feels like you’re driving the future. And other cars, especially non-Tesla cars, are gonna feel very last century.” 

Apart from the new yoke steering wheel, the most obvious interior design change in the Model S Plaid is the orientation of the main screen. Like that in the Model 3/Y, the landscape orientation is best suited for streaming movies and games, which is seemingly a major consideration for Tesla as the company moves closer to perfecting autonomous driving, which Tesla refers to as Full Self Driving (FSD).

Tesla also did away with the stalks on the steering column, the functionality of which has consequently been integrated into the steering wheel scrolls and buttons. Based on his notion that generally, all input is error, Musk explained at length that Tesla’s goal is to have the car execute instructions before the driver has given these instructions or input, in other words, a super intuitive system. “If you have to do something that the car could have done already, that should be taken care of. The software should just do it,” Musk explained.

Ventilated front seats are a welcome addition, as is the extra room in front of the backseats, which now also further recline. A display screen between the two front seats, facing the rear passengers, allows for full control of the infotainment system.

Dual inductive phone chargers, front and rear, are a significant plus point, as is a 36W USBC power supply fitted to charge a laptop or tablet. Multiple Bluetooth devices can be paired simultaneously, thus allowing multiple passengers to wirelessly control various features, like music, videos, or video games.

Musk describes the 17-inch touchscreen as a home theatre experience, perfectly suited for watching Netflix or YouTube, listening to iTunes or playing video games, on all three screens in the front and the rear.

Similar to the Model 3/Y, instead of air vents, the new Model S features intersecting columns of air controlled via the main touch screen. This allows for enhanced incoming air diffusion, creating the illusion of an invisible air conditioning system.

Model S is equipped with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and fitted with acoustic glass throughout the car. Microphones located in the front seats detect the amount of external road noise that can be heard inside the cabin. The system then automatically generates noise-cancelling sounds through the speakers, minimising road noise distraction in the cabin.

The all-new sound system, designed by Tesla Audio, is based on the Tesla designed codec, so it will continue to upload improved versions of the sound system. It is completely software-defined and dynamically adjusts to the quality of the incoming stream.

The new user interface (UI), which also interfaces with the driver’s calendar, makes use of artificial intelligence to provide an enhanced intuitive interface. And since this system is based on neural networks that are continuously trained, it also has the capacity to learn the daily or weekly routine of the driver. As Musk says, just swipe down, and let the car navigate from there.

Computing for Gaming

“I think there’s never been a car that has state-of-the-art computing technology, state-of-the-art infotainment where this is literally at the level of a Playstation 5. If you think about the future where the car is often in Autopilot or FSD mode, then entertainment is going to become increasingly more important.”

Before the unveiling of the Tesla Model S Plaid, AMD CEO Lisu Su, speaking at Computex 2021, revealed that AMD’s RDNA 2 graphics would be in the new Tesla Model S and Model X. According to Su, an AMD Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) runs the standard operations of Tesla’s infotainment system, and as soon as the user starts gaming, an AMD RDNA 2 GPU kicks in to smoothly render next-gen games like the Witcher III Wild Hunt, which Tesla has featured prominently in several promotions of the interior of the new Model S.

Gamers will be delighted to learn that the new Model S Plaid is powered by the same AMD RDNA 2 GPU architecture that powers both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox X/S, with immensely powerful processing that can run AAA games like Cyberpunk 2077 in 60 frames per second. For the first time ever, this gives a car PlayStation 5-level gaming capability.

Tesla’s Moat

“When we first delivered the Model S in 2012, there were no Superchargers anywhere in the world. Now there are 25,000 Superchargers all around the world. Just in the last week, we opened 30 more. And we’re just gonna keep going so that you can basically travel anywhere you want with peace of mind, super easy, (while) we keep increasing the power of the Superchargers, (from the current) 250 kW, to 280 kW, to 300 kW, to 350 kW.”

When the automobile arrived to disrupt horse transportation in the early 1900s, the automakers failed to observe the significant opportunity to also supply the fuel required for the cars they were producing. Others, however, took advantage of that opportunity, creating an entirely new industry, as the petrol and diesel supply infrastructure was built on the back of the auto industry. Today, the fuel supply industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and arguably more profitable than the automobile industry.

One of Tesla’s biggest moats is its global Supercharger network. Charging infrastructure is set to replace petrol and diesel filling stations in the near future, and Tesla, as the only automaker currently developing and building out its own charging infrastructure, is in pole position to attain significant market share from another potential billion-dollar industry.

Last Word

“All right, so we’ve got incredible performance, an interior of the future, engineering that’s practically alien, and simultaneously the safest and quickest car in the world. This is insane!”

The implications of hyper-performance in a family sedan are far-reaching, and even more so because Tesla is yet to unveil the production version of its own supercar, the Tesla Roadster. What are the implications for supercar manufacturers like Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini and the remaining high-performance brand names? How do they continue to justify a price tag of up to several million dollars for a ‘hypercar’ that is outperformed by a four-door family sedan costing $129,900, less than 5% the price of a Bugatti Chiron? We need time to think this through carefully, but let’s just say that a brittle ego in a very expensive supercar, parked next to a Tesla Model S Plaid at a traffic light, may result in significant time-out on the psychoanalyst’s couch.

Furthermore, what are the implications for legacy auto and their empty promises of a ‘Tesla killer’ and the jaded notion of ‘the competition is coming’? If anything, the testimony of the Model S Plaid has cleared legacy automakers of all charges of being Tesla killers, and the only competition looming, is Tesla itself. 

Elon Musk often reminds us that fate loves irony, and in an ironic twist of fate, the storm that Tesla was warned is coming, turns out to be Tesla. 

Report by WILHELM LOOTS | Images © Tesla

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