Inconel is a notably strong, resistant, and versatile superalloy that offers many advantages in extreme environments and conditions. It is used in some of the most high-demand applications in aerospace, marine, chemical processing, and other industries.
Whether used to manufacture high heat exchanger tubing, recording medium in an aircraft’s blackbox, or Superior Inconel flat washers, this superalloy is considered a specialty material and not something you’d find in most commercial products. However, if you’ve purchased a luxury sports car with exceptional speed capabilities in the last few years then there’s a chance that Inconel parts are sitting in your driveway.
Tesla’s use of Inconel in its new next-generation Roadster is generating a lot of buzz among sports car enthusiasts. Although Tesla was eager to share performance specs when the Roadster’s next generation was announced, they limited many of the technical specs with the exception of a 200 kWh battery pack that includes a contactor made from Inconel instead of steel.
The significance of the switch represents Tesla’s approach to bringing SpaceX technology to the automobile industry. With systems that have been proven in rocket applications, the Roadster is promising to provide drivers with a unique road experience that feels very much like accelerating in a rocket ship.
Inconel’s endurance and integrity even under extreme temperatures is a major contributor to the success of SpaceX’s spacecraft as well as in the manufacturing of the SuperDraco engine’s manufacturing process. Now it’s playing a role in the Roadster’s record-breaking ability to go from zero-to-sixty in under two seconds, also known as “Maximum Plaid” mode—an expansion on the widely publicized “Ludicrous Mode” available through the Model S.
In addition the incorporation of the Inconel contactor, the high-performance battery pack is noteworthy for the 620 mile range it offers. For those eager to get behind the wheel, the next generation Roadster is due for a 2020 production and will come with a $200,000 to $250,000 price tag.
While Tesla’s merger of spacecraft technology in a sports car is especially exciting, other automotive manufacturers have explored the use of superalloys in high-performance sports cars. Ford’s EcoBlue diesel engine includes a turbocharger turbine wheel made from Inconel. The BMW M5 E34 owes much of its high-speed capabilities to the Inconel present in its exhaust manifold. Jaguar’s F-Type SRV also incorporates Inconel into its exhaust system. The addition of this specialty alloy contributes to reduced backpressure and mass, which is highly desirable when trying to achieve impressive accelerating capabilities.
It may not be long before the auto industry sees even more high-speed advancements that are a direct result of Inconel’s unique endurance properties.