Interview with Chris Porritt, Vice President of Vehicle Engineering at Tesla Motors

In the July 2015 issue of Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International*, we were excited to come across a fantastic interview with Chris Porritt, Vice President of Vehicle Engineering at Tesla Motors. After 16 years at Aston Martin, Porritt joined Tesla Motors in May 2013. In the article's excerpts featured below, Porritt opens up about his experience at Tesla.

Source: Tesla Motors

In the interview, Porritt discusses his experience at Tesla: "... our fundamental role is to make the car reliable, robust and safe. But how we do it may be slightly different. Trying to do things as quickly and efficiently as possible isn’t unusual, but we try even harder to be even cleverer, integrating tasks in the most efficient way. For instance, if we’re testing stability or traction control or whatever, we might try to run that together with say, cold-environment testing. Without loads of products sitting around for us to test, we have to make the process as robust as possible.”

Source: Tesla Motors; Features Porritt discussing cold weather capabilities of Tesla Model S 

Porritt says he meets with Musk “three or four times a week and we’re absolutely on the same page, there’s no ambiguity”. He contrasts the differences between Tesla and other automakers: “In the traditional automotive world, there’s the ‘recipe book’, and everybody follows the book. Different companies look at the recipes in different ways, but ultimately, they’re essentially the same. If you bring in people from high-tech companies, on the other hand, they look at the book and say, ‘Well that’s ridiculous, why are you doing it like that?’. Many automotive companies reply, ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’. We can challenge that: it’s not how we’ve always done it, because we haven’t always done it."

He continues, “Because Tesla embraces people from such a variety of backgrounds, we do apply methods and techniques you’d see in traditional automotive companies – but also ones you’d see from a Silicon Valley culture, such as Apple, Microsoft and Google, whoever... I’ve never been in a place where everybody is so clever.”

Source: Christina Lauren

For physical testing, Porritt explains: “We tend to do as much as we can ourselves, so we have strong groups for vehicle test, traction control, stability control and tuning. We tend to buy components – or subsystems – from suppliers, then do the integration ourselves – rather than buying systems that are often tailored toward more traditional applications, but don’t necessarily work for us.”

Porritt also explains internal capabilities at Tesla: “The test group manages all our whole-vehicle testing, environmental, performance and coast-down testing, and dynamic sign-offs for the USA and now Europe. It also manages all our crash testing. We’ve built a low-speed barrier facility so that we can run tests up to 25mph [40km/h] in-house, which is brilliant for the early stages of a program. Before we get a car, we can build and test specific front-end sections on the trolley to correlate with our CAD predictions."

Source: Green Car Reports

“We’re building other whole car and component test facilities, too. We already have vibration rigs, hot and cold chambers and rolling-road dynos. But we haven’t just splashed out money and said, ‘We need this’, we’ve taken a step-by-step approach and said, ‘We’ve been outsourcing this, if we did it in-house could we save money and iterate quicker?’. Generally we’ve picked off the relatively inexpensive stuff; now we’re working through the more complex, more expensive [facilities]. Our whole approach is focused on improving efficiency."

Source: Tesla Motors

“For example, it was costing us quite a lot just to transport cars to outside facilities to do a low-speed [barrier] test, then bring them home. We reasoned it would be better to build our own concrete slab; and because we can control the motor that pulls the car into the block with technology from the cars, we were able to build digitally controlled crash-testing.” 

The article explains that Tesla’s high-speed crash tests are currently being performed at Kraco in California, IDIADA in Europe, TRC in Ohio, and unspecified laboratories in China. “We benchmark everybody and work with whomever’s appropriate; we don’t have any particular allegiance,” says Porritt. “But it won’t be long before we can do, say, 30mph+ [48km/h+]. We don’t have space to do side impacts, but we analyse every requirement, and if it looks as though it would be cost-effective to do it.” And, Porritt has the backing of Tesla CEO Elon Musk when making these decisions: “We get absolutely what we need,” stresses Porritt.  


*Source: Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International