During today's third quarter earnings call with Elon Musk and his corporate posse, Musk said that the all-wheel-drive version of the Model S points the way forward for the Model 3. What if it's front-wheel-drive? Or even all-wheel-drive to start?
Musk said during the call that, "We could just make a 20 percent smaller Model S, but I think we do something more interesting that that."
"Interesting" could mean a lot of things, but we've just always assumed – rightly or wrongly – that because of the lack of powertrain packaging constraints and Musk's love of performance that the Model 3 would be rear-wheel-drive.
To take that a step further, it's practically a given that – like the S – the Model 3 platform will be used to spawn a few variants: the standard sedan, an AWD model, and eventually a compact SUV. That could still happen with the drivetrain reversed, starting with a front-wheel-drive version at launch, then followed by an AWD variant.
But as far as I can tell there's no good reason for Tesla to go FWD for the 3. All the existing EVs out there are pulled rather than pushed because they're based on other FWD models (see: Nissan Leaf, Fiat 500E, Ford Focus EV).
Without legacy architecture holding Tesla back, it's another blank slate like the Model S. That is, unless, Musk and his engineers have determined some kind of magical formula that would make a FWD system more efficient. Aside from using the new, smaller motor powering the front wheels in the D models as the lone propulsion system, I just don't see that happening. Also, the Model 3 has been called Tesla's 3-Series fighter; that's hard, if not impossible, to pull off with FWD.
The other idea is that the 3 would come standard with AWD, which actually provided a minimal boost in range in the Model S 60D and 85D, but that wouldn't make sense from a sales and marketing perspective. Come out with one model (RWD or FWD), then an AWD model to boost sales as the next great thing – just like Tesla's done with the S.
But right now it's all just speculation based on a slightly offhand remark, and until I hear compelling case for why a FWD EV would be good for Tesla, I'll remain unconvinced – and hopeful.