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Elon Musk punts on self-driving car with Tesla ‘D’ announcement

On Oct. 2, a week ahead of a Tesla event near Los Angeles, founder Elon Musk hinted the company had something big in the works. “About time to unveil the D and something else,” he tweeted.

Musk-watchers were agog. What did “D” mean? Maybe Tesla would announce a self-driving car — something that would make the company, which sells just 20,000 cars per year, a competitor in the game Google jumpstarted.

“It appears that Musk is shooting for the moon and making the entire car self-driving,” CNet wrote — before the tweet even dropped. “The upcoming technology is said to allow the Model S to perform 90 percent of driving tasks.”

Business Insider: “Musk has said that Teslas will deliver autonomous driving in the near future — but maybe the future is nearer than we think!” 

And so, on Thursday at Hawthorne Airport — home to Musk’s other company, SpaceX — the visionary entrepreneur revealed: an electric car that goes really fast and has some cool autonomous features, but is definitely not an electric self-driving car.

The “D” stood for “dual motor” that enables all-wheel drive — an automotive innovation first dreamed up in 1893.

Among the “D’s” features: 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, a 275-mile range and a radar system that can recognize pedestrians. It can also park itself and, on private property, meet you at the door.

“This car is nuts,” Musk said, as Mashable reported. “It’s like your own personal roller coaster.”

Not among the “D’s” features: A heretofore unimagined self-driving system that re-invents driving as we know it.

Business Insider summed up the “D”: “Overall, nothing mind-blowing.”

However, some perceived Tesla playing catch-up as Tesla leaping ahead.

“This is Tesla catching up with the industry on auto-driving features,” John Krafcik, former chief executive and president of Hyundai, told Mashable. He added: “There will perhaps be an incremental feature or two … It would be a bit of a yawn if they only announce integrating all the features everyone else already has. Either way, small or large, this will be perceived as a big step forward for Tesla.”

The “D’s” relative dullness came just a week after Musk was hyping autonomous driving to CNN.

“Autonomous cars are definitely going to be a reality,” Tesla told Rachel Crane last week. “The Tesla car next year will probably be 90 percent capable of autopilot.”

Asked how that would happen, Musk looked slightly stumped, then said: “With a combination of various sensors, um, you combine, um, cameras with image-recognition with radar and long-range ultrasonics. That will do it. Other car companies will follow.”

But will Tesla be the leader?

“Tesla’s a Silicon Valley company,” Musk said. “I mean, if we’re not the leader, then shame on us.”

Musk’s optimistic predictions come with the stock of Tesla, a money-losing enterprise, near its all-time high. As the Wall Street Journal’s Steven Russolillo put it, the higher the price goes, “the louder the bears keep growling.”

“Tesla is a huge success story and a beautiful car, but the value of the company at $30 billion is entirely inflated,” John Thompson, chief executive at Vilas Capital Management, told the Journal. “ … It is ridiculously overpriced and is the poster child of a bubble in my opinion.”

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