With its large, 17-inch touch-screen display, over-the-air updates and recently-announced autonomous drive features, the Tesla Model S luxury electric sedan is one of the most advanced cars on the road today.
But while the Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] Model S may ultimately be a car, it has more in common with an iPad from fellow Silicon Valley company Apple [NASDAQ:APPL] than it does with any car produced by Detroit. What’s more, the Californian automaker approaches its design and manufacturing processes in a similar way to a consumer electronics giant, custom-designing parts that exactly fit its needs rather than adapting off-the-shelf tier one components.
That’s according to the IHS automotive research firm, which has just completed a full strip-down of the Tesla Model S in order to find out just what makes the famous plug-in tick. What it found was a vehicle which owed more of its design aesthetic and component selection to the consumer electronics industry than any other car it has ever stripped down.
“It’s like looking at the components from the latest mobile device from an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy product,” said Andrew Rassweiler, senior director for materials and cost benchmarking at IHS in an interview with the LA Times. “The cost structure of the electronics, the use of large displays in the cabin, the touch-screen-based controls, the mobile microchips — everything in this design makes the Tesla experience more like a media tablet or high-end smartphone than a traditional automobile.”
As part of its analysis, IHS intends to strip down every component of the Tesl Model S, from its drivetrain to its on-board entertainment system, safety equipment and air conditioning. Even thought its tear-down is far from complete, those poring over the stripped-down Model S say they’ve never seen anything as advanced in a car.
One of the key differences, the IHS says, is the use of cutting-edge technology in the Model S 17-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Unlike most automakers, who tend to use previous-generation processors and years-old technology to build their infotainment systems, the Model S being deconstructed features a NVIDIA Tegra 3, 1.4 Ghz quad-core processor — the kind of processing power you’d traditionally only find in a cutting-edge tablet computer or smartphone.
What’s more, the centrepiece of the Tesla Model S — its Internet-connected touchscreen ‘head unit’ — contains what IHS says is more than 5,000 discrete components, 1,000 more components than even the highest end unit that the IHS had previously seen used in a car. As well as being the most complex, IHS says the Tesla Model S head unit is the most expensive infotainment system it’s seen, with the value of discrete components coming in at more than twice the value of any other automotive head unit it has examined.
Part of that high cost can be explained by the size and quality of the components used. Instead of using first-or second tier suppliers and existing components, integrating them into the car as other automakers do, Tesla specifies its own hardware down to the component level, with custom-built electronics circuits, sourced and built exclusively for Tesla by electronics parts contractors like Foxcon.
In addition to having complete control over the supply chain, this also enables Tesla to build components that exactly fit its needs rather than having to modify its manufacturing or design processes to meet the limitations of what is commercially available.
Of course, as anyone who has driven the Tesla Model S will tell you, the similarities between the Model S and a consumer electronics device don’t stop with the way the car’s systems are built: there’s also the way the Model S receives over-the-air updates after purchase, adding features to the car long after it’s been driven out of the factory. In the automotive industry, that’s unheard of.
Is the Model S really a revolutionary car in its design and application? Is IHS right? And what would you like other automakers to learn from Tesla’s unique attitude to automotive design?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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