By Rebecca Elliott
Elon Musk is aiming to breathe new life into Tesla Inc.'s
high-end sedan that helped establish the company as the world's
leading electric-vehicle maker.
The redesign of the Model S is the latest sign that Tesla has
evolved from a sprightly startup challenging incumbents with new
vehicles, to an established manufacturer that also has to upgrade
legacy models to keep potential buyers interested.
The Silicon Valley company late Thursday marked the delivery of
a souped-up version of its luxury sedan. Mr. Musk, Tesla's chief
executive, has billed it as the quickest production car on the
market. The vehicle, dubbed Model S Plaid, can accelerate from zero
to 60 miles an hour in less than two seconds, Tesla says on its
website, and is priced starting around $130,000.
"There is something that's quite important to the future of
sustainable energy, which is that we've got to show that an
electric car is the best car, hands down," Mr. Musk said at
Thursday's event, where he drove one of the vehicles on stage.
The revamp comes nearly a decade after Tesla launched the car,
which became one of the world's first widely sold battery-powered
vehicles. But sales have slumped in recent years as the company has
focused on developing more-affordable vehicles.
Deliveries of the luxury sedan and another high-end offering,
the Model X sport-utility vehicle, fell to a combined 57,085 last
year, from a high of more than 101,000 in 2017. Overall vehicle
handoffs to customers soared nearly fivefold in that time.
The launch reflects Mr. Musk's track record of showmanship as
well as missed deadlines. He has frequently talked up the vehicle,
which has a name adopted from Mel Brooks's blockbuster "Spaceballs"
"Basically our product plan is stolen from 'Spaceballs.' We've
gone Plaid speed," Mr. Musk said, referring to a line in the
The car also is arriving late. Mr. Musk in January said that he
expected the Model S Plaid to be in customer hands the following
month, but the overhaul proved to be more difficult than expected.
The event itself began more than an hour after its initial
"It's going to be a question of ramping supply chain and
internal production processes," Mr. Musk said in April, after
output of the models S and X ground to a halt in the first
The delay means Tesla has so far largely missed out on this
year's booming demand for luxury vehicles, which typically are more
lucrative for auto makers. U.S. sales of vehicles priced above
$80,000 more than doubled in the first five months of the year,
from the same period in 2019, according to research firm J.D.
Power. Tesla delivered 2,030 combined Model S and Model X vehicles
in the first quarter.
"Consumers are flush with cash," said Tyson Jominy, who leads
J.D. Power's data and analytics practice. The redesign, he said,
should jolt sales.
The Model S Plaid has an estimated range of 390 miles, according
to Tesla, and a redesigned interior featuring three display
screens, including one for rear passengers that enables in-car
videogaming. The vehicle has an unusual yolk-shaped steering wheel
and does away with the traditional gear selector. Instead, the
vehicle "guesses drive direction" based on context including
obstacles and the navigation map, and drivers can use a touch
screen to override those assumptions, Mr. Musk has said.
Tesla, like many auto makers, has been beset by supply-chain
problems that took hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, including
shortages of semiconductors. The company briefly shut down its
Fremont, Calif., auto plant earlier this year because of parts
"Our biggest challenge is supply chain, especially
microcontroller chips. Never seen anything like it," Mr. Musk said
on Twitter earlier this month. "Fear of running out is causing
every company to overorder -- like the toilet paper shortage, but
at epic scale."
The company also has begun making battery cells in-house, to
supplement those provided by third-party suppliers such as
Panasonic Corp. Mr. Musk indicated last year that the Model S Plaid
could use the larger batteries that Tesla is producing at a Silicon
Valley pilot plant. However, as of April, those cells weren't yet
reliable enough, Mr. Musk said.
Mr. Musk recently said the company scrapped a higher-end
version, dubbed Plaid+, which was billed as having a range of more
than 520 miles. Mr. Musk attributed the move to Plaid being "just
Tesla didn't respond to a request for comment on topics
including whether battery cells were a factor in its decision to
cancel the Model S Plaid+.
Tesla also is refreshing the Model X, first delivered to
customers in 2015. Mr. Musk said during the company's first quarter
earnings call that he expected to begin delivering the revamped
Model X in the third quarter. As of Wednesday, the company's
website estimated availability for new orders early next year.
Meanwhile, the company has new cars in the works, including an
electric pickup truck that Mr. Musk has said Tesla may deliver by
the end of the year. Tesla also is developing a semitrailer truck
that is running late, and Mr. Musk has said the company is striving
to produce a $25,000 electric vehicle.
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Write to Rebecca Elliott at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 11, 2021 00:59 ET (04:59 GMT)
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