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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.
There are a few ways to go about charging your Tesla electric car. Tesla recommends getting an electrician to install a recharging station at your home. Called a High Power Wall Charger, this device plugs into the back of the car and can juice its battery twice as fast as a 240-volt outlet would. You can also plug in to 100-volt outlets via a mobile connector that allows you to charge wherever you find time and electricity. And, of course, you could always go green by installing solar panels to generate charge at home.
But that's not all — Tesla is also in the process of installing hundreds of "supercharging" stations on highways across the United States and in parts of Canada. These stations are designed to allow Model S owners to charge their rides in just about an hour, and several have already been built in California.
So what does all that electricity get used for? To power a watermelon-sized motor that converts mechanical power into electricity but also turns that mechanical power into more electricity. It's a much simpler, more efficient device than the combustion engine found in most cars, enabling you to get the most mileage for your charge. Tesla says its electric cars equipped with the most powerful battery packs available can travel at 55 miles per hour for up to 300 miles on a single charge.
Of course, eventually you'll run out of juice and the whole process will begin again. But now you'll have an appreciation for how the Tesla electric car actually works.

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