At its heart, Tesla Motors is an engineering company. We get invited to a variety of events because of our technical expertise as well as a general interest in what we are doing and how we are doing it. I often get asked what it is like to work at Tesla Motors and to describe some typical problems we solve. Here is my take on those questions, based on my own experience and a swift survey of some of the other engineers.
A typical day at Tesla Motors is never typical. Each day is different. Everyone has multiple responsibilities – mine have ranged from running the Power Electronics (PEM) team to moderating the blog comments. There is never a dull moment – especially with the blog. It is a great way to stay in touch, and I get a real kick out of the halibut filter! (That’s our version of the profanity filter, in case you didn’t know.)
At Tesla Motors, we spend a lot of time fine tuning CAD (Computer Aided Design) drawings to build a virtual car. It takes us up to the prototype stage when we actually start to build a real car. This helps to iron out any unexpected "features" – but not all of them. One such "feature" we missed on our Engineering Prototypes (EPs), was “the clash of the charge port door and the driver's door.”
We didn't realize it was a problem until we fully opened both at the same time. As one engineer opened the nifty charge port door to see the fancy charging lights, another opened the driver's door to work on the electronic door latches. The clang of the doors was nothing compared to the hushed horror of the engineers. Fear not - the clash is no more. We’ve corrected the problem, and it will be implemented in our next prototype version.
Choosing a washer bottle for the car should be straightforward, right? I thought so, but apparently not. The washer bottle is usually one of the last things to be designed. Consequently, it takes on the shape of the available space. Although there are thousands of shapes and sizes of washer bottle out there, there is never one that is exactly right. Take a look at our washer bottle – a weird shape to maximize the volume in an odd-shaped space.
The Tesla Roadster comes in 12 colors. Each color has a name and, oh boy, the naming took some time! After several PR and design people took a run at it, we held a competition amongst the employees. There were a few good suggestions, and several odd ones. (“Kill Me, I Have No Taste” was a particular favorite.) We were running out of time. Three Tesla Motors executives, Martin, Mike, and Malcolm, were dragged into a conference room (by me) and were not allowed out until each color had an agreed upon name. It took nearly three hours, with “Very Orange” and “Thunder Gray” proving to be the toughest. It was only three hours but it felt like a week.
Once the EPs were built, they were put to the test. It’s a hard life when testing involves driving a performance car, but someone has to do it. The PEM team was convinced that they could get more power from the PEM. This would result in more power to the motor, which would deliver more torque, thus improving the acceleration. Phew.
They moved around the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors (IGBTs) in the motor power driver to make room for 12 more. The increase in torque was noticeable. The result was a quicker 0-60 time – it shaved off about 3/10 second. You can see the increase in torque from the additional IGBTs in the Fast Torque graph. (Click on the graph to enlarge it.) It shows an increase of about 25% in the middle of the RPM range. Nice.
One of the first design tasks is the clay model. This is a skilled and serious task. Take a look at this picture of the clay model in process. You can see where the silver finish is being applied to the clay to assess the highlights on the bumper surface. We used Lotus Design to complete our clay models for the Tesla Roadster – you can see an M250 in the background.
Now look closely at the door handle gap. What do you see? Yup, it’s a rat and his name is Roland :-)
Editor's note: Want to know more about our “Halibut” filter or the guidelines we use to moderate the blog comments? We’ve created a new page that outlines our policies, and we encourage you to take a look. You can find the page listed in the left navigation area of the blog page or click here to visit now.
Martin has been out and about (did you see the Blackberry ads?) and has been relying on his team - and customers - for articles. Martin will be back next week with a new blog article! Yey!