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Watch Tesla Model S testing new titanium armor

Wed, 23 Apr 2014

In a missive signed by Elon Musk himself, Tesla announced it would be adding titanium plates and aluminum deflectors to all new Model S sedans and offering free retrofits for the 20,000 or so existing EVs. The company earlier offered an over-the-air software update to raise the ground clearance of the Model S so the car would be more likely to clear dangerous road debris. The actions were in response to well-publicized fires in the electric luxury sedans.

In tests, all of which we really wish we'd been asked to participate in, Tesla engineers piloted newly shielded Model S sedans over potentially dangerous objects 152 times. That sounds like fun! Whack! Whack! Whack! Etc. Objects included but were not limited to: a three-ball trailer hitch, an automotive alternator and a particularly spiky-looking concrete block thing. God knows what else they walloped. We asked for a complete list of all things they ran over, but Tesla hasn't responded yet. Was an armadillo on it? We don't know.

“During the course of 152 vehicle level tests, the shields prevented any damage that could cause a fire or penetrate the existing quarter inch of ballistic grade aluminum armor plate that already protects the battery pack,” Musk's release read. “We have tried every worst case debris impact we can think of, including hardened steel structures set in the ideal position for a piking event, essentially equivalent to driving a car at highway speed into a steel spear braced on the tarmac.”

(For the record, we have never experienced “a piking event.”)

Tesla believes the shielding will even prevent fires in collisions so severe that the wheels are torn off the car, as happened last year in Mexico when a Model S hit a concrete “curbwall” at 110 mph, after which the driver walked away “with no permanent injuries.”

There are three new shields. The first is a hollow aluminum bar that acts sort of like a cow catcher on a steam train to move objects out of the way. If that doesn't work, titanium plates cover sensitive mechanicals from underbody piercing. Finally, “a shallow angle, solid aluminum extrusion that further absorbs impact energy, provides another layer of deflection and finally causes the Model S to ramp up and over the object if it is essentially incompressible and immovable.”

It almost makes you want to enter a Model S in the Baja 1000 just to see how far you'd get.

Tesla included three animated gifs of the trailer hitch, alternator and concrete block all trying their best and failing to damage the undercarriage of a Model S. Tesla says that even though the shields are “not needed for a high level of safety,” they added them anyway.

“…there is no safer car on the road than a Tesla. The addition of the underbody shields simply takes it a step further.”

Then he signed it,

- Elon

Now if they can just get the door handles to work…

Watch all the Tesla tests as animated gifs here.

By Mark Vaughn