Will the latest powertrain tech keep Tesla’s most-expensive models relevant?

Tesla is known for breaking from tradition, and that includes the way in which it updates its various model lines. Rather than creating an entirely new “generation” every five years like the rest of the industry, the California-based brand prefers a steady stream of incremental updates to keep things fresh. However, that could change with the forthcoming Model S and Model X, as rumor has it Tesla has a substantial powertrain update in the works, with tech bits pulled from the Model 3 compact sedan.

Are The Model S And Model X Now “Old School?”

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core Exterior
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2017 Tesla Model S
Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core
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2017 Tesla Model X

When the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X first arrived on the scene in 2012 and 2015, respectively, they brought the very latest powertrain tech the company could muster. Now, however, following the release of the Model 3 compact sedan, the S and X are looking a little long in the tooth, especially with regard to their powertrain technology. As such, Tesla is rumored to have a total revamp of its powertrain lineup planned for the very near future.

This latest rumor comes to us from a recent post from our friends at Electrek, who credit unnamed “sources familiar with the matter” with providing the insider info.

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core
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Current Tesla Model X and Model S Dual-Motors

Some of the most important components slated for improvement are the electric motors. For now, the Model S and Model X come with either one or two AC induction-style motors, which, according to Electrek ***https://electrek.co/2019/04/05/tesla-model-s-new-electric-motors/ *** , offer an efficiency rating of 93 percent.

By contrast, the more modern Tesla Model 3 comes with a set of permanent magnet motors, which offer up a 97 percent efficiency rating. While that might not sound like that big of a difference, just a few extra percent can translate into big gains in terms of peak miles-per-charge and overall performance, both of which are figures Tesla relies upon to stand out in the segment.

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core Exterior
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2018 Tesla Model 3

Now, following Tesla’s efforts to ramp up production capacity, it’s looking like the S and X might make the transition from AC induction to permanent magnets.

According to Electrek, Tesla is actively working towards the development of a new powertrain for the S and X using such a setup. The upgrade is said to carry the internal codename “Project Raven.”

No doubt this move is made possible thanks to a significant reduction in cost with regards to Tesla’s production process, as expedited by the overwhelming demand for the Model 3. Now that the upgraded permanent magnet motor components fit neatly into the company’s cost/benefit considerations, the S and X should both receive an overall increase in range and performance when they hit the market for the new model year.

Fresh Battery Packs For Fresh Motors

While equipping the Model S and Model X with new electric motors helps to keep them at the leading edge of the all-electric segment, that’s really only half of the story when it comes to the EV powertrain. The other half is the battery pack.

No surprise then that Electrek also reports that Tesla has additional updates heading down the pipeline to complement the fresh drive units, including a new battery architecture that closely mimics the 2170-type cells equipped on the Model 3.

Developed as a joint effort between Tesla and Panasonic, the 2170-type battery cells in the Model 3 offer as much as 33 percent more energy compared to the 18650-type battery cells found in the Model S and Model X.

Granted, Elon Musk previously tweeted that there are no plans to incorporate the 2170 batteries into the S and X powertrains, but that was back in 2017, and our guess is that will change very soon.

If Tesla does end up making the switch, we’d expect an increase to the S and X’s peak energy capacity as well. Both models range between 75 kWh and 100 kWh depending on the trim level (although the 75-kWh option was discontinued earlier this year), but an increase to 125 kWh doesn’t seem outlandish for the next-gen models.

For reference, the current 100-kWh pack offers 315 to 335 miles per charge in the Model S and 289 to 295 miles in the Model X. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 2.4 seconds in the Model S Performance (4.1 seconds in the Long Range trim) and 2.8 seconds in the Model X Performance (4.7 seconds in the Long Range trim).

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core
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2017 Tesla Model S Instrument Cluster

With an upgraded 125-kWh battery pack, we’d guess range per charge would increase to 350 miles, while the run to 60 mph would be knocking on the door of 2 seconds flat.

Of course, Tesla would would need to include a slew of software updates to go with the new powertrain setup, but that shouldn’t be too difficult considering how well-versed the company is with over-the-air updates.

Timing It Out

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core Wallpaper quality
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2017 Tesla Model X

If Tesla does decide to upgrade its powertrain, it’s hard to say when exactly it’ll all go down.

However, rumor has it the brand also has a new interior layout in the works, and it makes sense to line it up with the new motor and battery packs, if indeed all these rumors turn out to be true.

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core
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2017 Tesla Model X Interior

With regard to the new cabin, it sounds as though the brand is looking to pivot its iconic central touchscreen from a portrait layout to a landscape layout. The streamlined, simple styling cues will once again carry over from before, but there could be a few tweaks to elements like the dash design and central tunnel.

According to Electrek, we could see all this new stuff as early as June.

Why It Matters

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core Exterior
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2017 Tesla Model S

Headlines reveal that Tesla sales are down as of late, with 63,000 vehicles delivered in the first three months of 2019 - a 31-percent drop compared to the previous quarter, according the CNN

That said, Tesla is still the dominating force in the EV segment, scooping up roughly 75 percent of electric vehicle sales in the U.S. and 45 percent of electric vehicle sales in Europe. Now, with the Tesla Model Y compact crossover set to arrive next year, Tesla is still looking strong.

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core Exterior Spyshots
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2020 Porsche Taycan

But that enthusiasm should obviously come with a grain of salt. The EV segment is becoming more crowded every day, with competitors like the new Porsche Taycan threatening to steal sales from the California brand in the very near future. With as much as 670 horsepower, a 0-to-60 mph time under 3.5 seconds, and 280 miles of range, not to mention Porsche’s legendary handling prowess, the Taycan could gobble up more than a few Model S sales - even with Tesla’s refurbished powertrain on tap.

Still, Tesla has more than a few tricks up its sleeves, not to least of which are its charge times and Supercharger network.

Roller Skates and Movies: Tesla Supercharger Locations Could End Up as Drive-In Theaters
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Tesla is currently rolling out its Supercharger 3.0 technology, and adding the latest battery tech to the S and X would bless each with the same 250-kW charge rate as the Model 3. Tesla claims that Supercharger 3.0 can achieve a charge rate of 1,000 miles of range per hour, which is a massive improvement over Supercharger 2.0’s rate of 340 miles per hour.

Of course, Porsche claims the Taycan can achieve a comparable rate of 900 miles per hour at the plug, but it remains to be seen how exactly the brand plans on making that available to customers. By contrast, Tesla is already rolling out Supercharger 3.0 tech to its 1,441 stations around the world.

What’s more, Tesla’s upgraded battery tech will accommodate CCS (Combined Charging System) for the European market, something already equipped on Euro-spec Model 3’s, providing even more flexibility to customers.

Despite the recent sales slump, Tesla is still leading in a number of areas, including average range per charge, all-electric performance and acceleration, its charging network, and price. Once the brand upgrades the Model S and Model X, we fully expect sales to once again pick up.

Looking Forward

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core
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2019 Tesla Model X

If you happen to own a Model S or Model X right now, all of this is probably leaving you wondering - what about me? Can I get in on these updates? How hard would it be to upgrade to the new powertrain?

Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely Tesla will offer some kind of solution for current Model S and Model X owners to get this new tech installed on their older vehicles. And that most likely is contributing to the current sales slump, as prospective buyers wait for Tesla to roll out the fresh powertrains before taking the plunge.

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There’s one more wrinkle to add to all this - autonomous technology. Tesla is still the leader when it comes to self-driving features, and we believe this overhaul will include the option for further expanded capability in the future. Wether its through bundled software updates or smarter shared energy usage, there’s no doubt Tesla is working towards greater autonomy in the future.

What do you think, dear reader? Would new battery and powertrain tech make the Tesla Model S and Model X more attractive? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Further Reading

Tesla's Refresh for the Tesla Model S and Model X Will Infuse Model 3 DNA at their Core
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Read our speculative review of the 2022 Tesla Model S

2017 Tesla Model S Exterior
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model S.

2016 Tesla Model X
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model X.

2018 Tesla Model 3 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model 3.

2020 Tesla Model Y
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model Y.

2020 Porsche Taycan Exterior Spyshots
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Read our speculative review on the 2020 Porsche Taycan.

Source: Electrek

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