The Tesla CEO appeared about half-hour late at the company’s Fremont, Calif., production facility to announce a revolutionary debut for Tesla, dubbed Plaid. The car promises to be the first in mass production to carry sub-two-second zero-to-60 speeds, making it the world’s quickest car available to buy. Tesla promised a 390-mile range and more than 1,000 horsepower, propelling it to speeds up to 200 mph, although it’s unclear whether the car would reach those speeds in the variation being delivered to consumers. It’s listed at about $130,000 on Tesla’s website, before potential savings such as government incentives.
With the debut, Musk ruminated on why a car would ever need to be built to such extreme specifications.
“We’ve got to show that an electric car is the best car hands down,” he said. “With the Plaid Model S, what you have is a car that is quicker than any sports car, faster than any Porsche, safer than any Volvo, in the same car. ... It really feels like you’re driving in the future.”
The car’s name is a reference to the movie “Spaceballs.” In the space-action parody, stars brightly streak past as the spaceship enters “Ludicrous” speed, the velocity eventually represented by an equally ridiculous pattern: “Plaid.”
Missing from the evening? Fans have been clamoring for updates on Tesla’s Cybertruck, Semi and Roadster, the company’s most anticipated upcoming releases — all of which were set for 2020 or 2021 debuts on their earlier timelines. But the promises have not materialized as the company has struggled with its characteristic overpromising. There was no update on the other models.
“I think maybe as just a general rule with Tesla: Regardless of what they say, they’re over-optimistic on when it’s going to be available,” said Gene Munster, managing partner at the venture capital firm Loup Ventures, who added that the company “eventually delivers.”
Instead this week, fans were treated to a classic Elon Musk diversion: Tesla said it would no longer build its fully featured, premier Model S, dubbed the Plaid Plus.
The Plaid Plus was supposed to be the top-end luxury sedan offered by the company. The less-expensive Model S Plaid, he argued in a tweet, delivered good enough performance to render its counterpart unnecessary. Both would be luxury sport sedans well out of the price range of the typical consumer, exceeding $100,000, unlike the more mass-market-aimed Cybertruck and the more popular Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.
“Plaid+ is canceled. No need, as Plaid is just so good,” wrote Musk, in a surprise to fans, as he simultaneously announced that the Model S Plaid would hit the road this week.
Based on Thursday’s announcement, the car is unconventional even by Tesla standards.
It carries a yoke-style steering wheel, a half-moon shape that increases visibility for the driver but that has also been criticized as an ergonomic downgrade. The car eliminates a gear selector stalk, Musk said, automating that function. Rather than a turn signal stalk the user pushes up or down, the steering wheel features left and right arrows the user presses.
Drivers will be able to swipe into reverse or drive using the touch screen, but ultimately Tesla has said it wants to leave gear selection up to automation.
“If you’re changing from forward to reverse in particular situations, it’ll try to remember that and geocode it to particular locations,” Musk said, adding the eventual goal is “minimizing the amount of input that you do until the car just reads your mind.”
Musk said the car would carry quicker charging than past models, adding 187 miles of charging range in 15 minutes. He said Tesla would aim for the car to carry the lowest probability of injury of any car tested by safety authorities.
Musk said the car also delivers PlayStation 5-level gaming performance and could run the popular title “Cyberpunk 2077.” Deliveries, he said, would begin immediately, as Tesla fulfilled the first 25 orders right away and would soon ramp up to several hundred cars per week.
“This car crushes,” Musk concluded.
Tesla has struggled with its pace of production in the past. With its mass-market Model 3, some workers were shifted into a production tent outside the factory as the company worked around-the-clock to fulfill orders. The Model S is a lower-production vehicle and the top-end Plaid version will carry even fewer orders, but Tesla anticipates it will build a thousand per week within months.
The cancellation of the Plaid Plus, which was set at about $150,000, came as a disappointment to many who awaited its promised 520-mile range and new battery technology, announced in a similar presentation in September. And the company has been mum on specific timelines for its debut pickup, the Cybertruck; its sports car, the Roadster; and its long-haul truck, the Tesla Semi. Musk said in a tweet in January that production for the Roadster would begin next year.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jerome Guillen, the head of Tesla Heavy Trucking, left the company on June 3, Tesla announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing this week, raising questions about the status of that project.
On social media, Tesla superfans and casual observers alike have sought an update on Tesla’s futuristic pickup, which Tesla originally said was slated for production this year. Munster said Tesla risks letting the competition catch up to it, especially after Ford announced its F-150 Lightning electric pickup to great fanfare last month.
The cancellation of the Plaid Plus means Tesla will miss an opportunity to debut its new 4680 battery cell, the advanced battery composition it announced at a presentation last September. The Plaid Plus was set to include the new cell, which would be more densely packed and provide 16 percent more range, Tesla said in September, with power and energy outputs far higher than today’s batteries are capable of.
When it comes to product announcements, “you have to translate what Tesla says,” Munster said. “Most things are going to take longer than you think, but eventually they’re going to get there.”