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How the Tesla Electric Car Actually Works

The Tesla Model S has been hailed as both a must-have big boy toy for the well-moneyed as well a harbinger of environmentally friendly transportation tech. So well-regarded are Tesla’s electric cars, in fact, that the Model S was voted the Motor Trend Car of 2013.

But how do Tesla’s electric cars actually work? That answer requires a bit more explanation. The basics are pretty straightforward, but real intrigue lies in the details of its futuristic car tech.

Electricity charges a battery to give the Model S juice for a certain period of time, not unlike your smartphone or laptop. In fact, each Tesla electric car has much more in common with your MacBook than you might think — the company uses lithium-ion batteries just like the type that powers laptops worldwide.

There’s just one difference — Tesla’s batteries are a heck of a lot more powerful. The battery in each Tesla car is actually made up of thousands of lithium-ion cells that have a combined weight of about a thousand pounds, according to the company. Each pack is built at Tesla’s Bay Area headquarters and comes equipped with a heating system that enables the car to function in cold weather.

To get that battery ready to roll, however, you’re going to have to charge the sucker. Again, this process isn’t much different from the way you charge the portable devices you carry around every day — what’s unique here is you’re dealing with a much bigger gadget that carries you around instead. And this is the key difference between a Tesla electric car and a hybrid, like the Toyota Prius — it’s all electric and has to be charged, whereas the Prius runs partially on gasoline but doesn’t have to be charged.


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