A lucky 25 customers received Tesla’s redesigned Model S “Plaid” at an event hosted Thursday night by CEO Elon Musk in Fremont, California.
The Silicon Valley automaker has billed this new $130,000 version of the Model S — first announced in January and originally slated for March — as the “fastest production vehicle ever made,” with the ability to drive in less than 2 seconds. to go from 0 to 100 km/h . The name is a reference to the unimaginable speed beyond “Ludicrous” in the comedy classic space balls. It is also expected to have a range of approximately 390 miles. (Tesla sells a less powerful version of the redesigned Model S with more range — 412 miles — that starts at just a hair below $80,000. Shipments on that begin later this year.)
Why so fast? “We have to show that an electric car is without a doubt the best car,” Musk said at Thursday night’s event. “It should be clear [that] renewable energy cars can be the fastest cars, the safest cars, [and] can be the most kick ass cars in every way. ”
“This car is crushing,” he said.
On June 6, Musk announced that Tesla had canceled the most expensive version of the new Model S, called Plaid Plus. That version, which had a starting price of about $150,000, had to travel 520 miles on a full battery. It would also be powered by the new 4680 lithium-ion battery cells that Tesla is developing. A redesigned Model X was also announced in January, but deliveries of that new SUV have been delayed for months and Musk did not mention the updated SUV Thursday night.
Musk once blasted rumors of a Model S and Model X redesign in 2019, saying there was “no ‘redesigned’ Model X or Model S on the way.” Instead, Musk said Tesla was always making minor improvements to both vehicles. But sales of both vehicles have stalled in recent years as Tesla focused on the more affordable Model 3 sedan and Model Y compact SUV. The redesigned versions are an opportunity to boost sales of these older cars. The company seems confident enough in the new Model S Plaid that it increased starting price by $10,000 earlier today.
Musk delved deep into the weeds about Tesla’s “practically otherworldly” engineering, but he was also light on execution details. Musk said Tesla plans to make “several hundred” [Model S Plaids] per week”, and will “probably” increase to about 1,000 per week in the next quarter. But he made almost no mention of the Model X Plaid, the twin-engine “long-haul” Model S, and he went no further on his rationale for canceling the 520-mile Plaid Plus. Earlier this week, he just told Electrek that “more reach doesn’t really matter.”
“There are essentially zero trips over 400 miles where the driver doesn’t have to stop for toilet, food, coffee, etc. anyway,” he said.
The new Model S marks the sedan’s first major overhaul since its launch in 2012, and set Tesla on the path to its current status as the world’s top electric vehicle company. The exterior design is largely unchanged (although it has a super low drag coefficient of 0.208) and the interior has had a major facelift.
The Model S now has a horizontal touchscreen as in the Model 3 and Model Y, but with a larger 17-inch version with smaller bezels. Unlike the Model 3 and Model Y, there is a digital instrument panel behind the wheel. Behind the center console is a third screen for the rear passengers. Tesla showed a new user interface for the screens Thursday night, with drag-and-drop elements and other refinements. Musk even capitulated to screams from the crowd of fans at one point and agreed to finally add a waypoint feature for Tesla’s navigation system.
There are also other upgrades, such as more space for rear passengers and wireless phone chargers in the back seat. “The current Model S, the back seat isn’t great. But the new one — it’s actually a legitimate backseat,” Musk said.
The Model S Plaid has extremely powerful processing that can run AAA games on the car’s screens at 60 frames per second, in addition to all the other services that Tesla allows, such as Netflix and Spotify. “Really, it’s like a home theater experience,” Musk said.
Tesla has also changed a lot under the proverbial hood. The Model S Plaid is powered by a new three-motor powertrain that Tesla originally began developing for the upcoming second-generation Roadster. (The company tested the Plaid powertrain in a Model S sedan at famous racetracks: Laguna Seca and the Nürburgring.) Those three engines put together about 1,000 horsepower, and the car can reach a top speed of 200 miles per hour — but only when certain wheels and tires fitted that won’t be available until later this year. “It hits you right in the limbic system,” Musk said.
Previous Model S sedans weren’t exactly slow, but the new one will better replicate that feat thanks to a new technology Tesla has developed. The company has been working on new heat pumps, starting with the Model Y, and in the Model S Plaid, Tesla says the pump improves cold weather range by 30 percent and reduces energy consumption from using the HVAC system by 50 percent. The radiator is also much larger to help cool the battery pack during demanding rides. Tesla even developed new carbon-wrapped rotors in the electric motors that power the Plaid system to keep them from falling apart at high RPM.
Repeating high-performance runs was a tricky prospect in older Model S sedans, so much so that Porsche allowed the Taycan to make plenty of fast runs with no loss of performance when that EV was launched. All those changes should help Tesla answer Porsche. Musk claims the new Model S will be safer than most other cars on the road based on Tesla’s internal data. The car has not yet been tested by safety authorities.
One possible hiccup in safety: the distinctive, U-shaped “yoke” handlebars. It was reportedly a surprise to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. When Musk was asked by Joe Rogan in February if he thought the new wheel was legal, the CEO said “they use a yoke in Formula 1”.
“Yeah, but you’re not on the highway in a Formula 1 car,” Rogan replied. Musk replied that he believed Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system “will be good enough that you don’t have to drive most of the time.”
Tesla not only changed the design of the steering wheel, but also removed all stems on the steering column. There will be an option on the touchscreen to select driving modes, but Tesla sees that as a backup. Instead, the car automatically switches between park, reverse and drive by default.
“I think in general all inputs are errors,” Musk said Thursday evening.