Tesla launches its fastest car, the Model S Plaid

Tesla Inc. launched a high-performance version of its Model S, aiming to reignite interest in the nearly decade-old sedan and fend off rivals such as Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Lucid Motors in the luxury EV market.

Tesla redefined electric cars in 2012 when it launched its high-end Model S with a sleek design and long driving range, and CEO Elon Musk said the new version, the Model S Plaid, was designed for a future where cars drove themselves.

“This car crushes,” Musk said at an evening delivery event held at Tesla’s U.S. factory in Fremont, Calif., on Thursday. “Sustainable energy cars can be the fastest cars, be the safest cars, gonna be the most kick-ass cars in every way,” he said.

The model is “faster than any Porsche, safer than any Volvo,” said Musk, wearing a black leather jacket, after he drove the Model S Plaid down a test track onto the stage.

The launch of the Model S Plaid, which has already been showcased online, has faced delay and some controversy over an expected airplane-style yoke steering wheel.

Musk canceled another variant, Model S Plaid+, which would have had a 33 percent higher driving range than the Model S Plaid and used advanced battery technology, known as 4680 cells.

The  Model S Plaid accelerates from 0 to 60 mph (97 kph) in 1.99 seconds and has an estimated driving range of 390 miles (628 km).

While it offers little change in body style, the Plaid charges faster at Tesla supercharger stations, has a roomier back seat and an improved entertainment system.

Musk said the entertainment system was at the level of a PlayStation5, while the sound system has the feel of a home-theater experience.

“If you think about where the future of the car is, often in Autopilot or self-driving mode, then entertainment is going to become increasingly important,” Musk said. “You’re going to want to watch movies, play games, use the internet.” he said.

Need for refresh

The Model S, Tesla’s breakthrough sedan, has been long overdue for a refresh. The phrase “Plaid Mode” is a reference to the 1987 comedy movie Spaceballs starring Mel Brooks.

“The Model S has not been changing a lot in terms of looks over the past almost decade,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director at car information provider Edmunds. “I think Tesla has to offer consumers something more like new and fun things.”

“The Model S Plaid is definitely intended to help reduce the migration of current Tesla owners out of Tesla,” said Ed Kim, vice president at consultancy AutoPacific. “I think what we’re seeing now is that Tesla can no longer operate in a vacuum.”

He said Model S Plaid is a low-volume, halo model aimed at showcasing the automaker and generating excitement around the sedan, with Tesla needing to successfully roll out new models including Cybertruck and Semi trucks to expand its customer base.

Tesla delivered only 2,020 Model S/Xs in the first quarter, down from 18,920 the previous quarter, hampered by production delays. Musk said in April that production of its new Model S and X would be “contingent on global supply chain issues.”

Musk said Tesla would hand over the first 25 Model S Plaid vehicles now and would soon deliver several hundred a week and 1,000-a-week next quarter.