Tesla may not have been a presence at this year’s New York Auto Show, but founder Elon Musk made sure the company stayed in the headlines. Last week, Musk tweeted that the electric automaker will announce a “major new product line” unrelated to its automotive division on April 30. Following up that announcement, the company has just introduced a new entry-level Model S sedan, raising the price, but offering a host of improvements to increase range and performance, and offering some insight into upcoming models.
On sale this week (with deliveries expected to begin late spring), the S 70D replaces the rear-wheel drive S 60, gaining a second motor and a significant range increase. The outgoing model produced 302 horsepower from a single motor and had a range of about 208 miles with its 60 kilowatt battery. The new model with its larger 70 kilowatt battery sees a range increase to about 240 miles. The base S 70D also gets the same dual motor setup as the P85D, making three of the Model S’s four trim levels all-wheel drive.
Curiously, the S 70D’s dual-motor setup has been rated at 514 horsepower, but only delivers 329 horses to the wheels. We reached out to Tesla for some clarification on this (outlets said 514 horsepower, while Tesla said 329 on its website), but couldn’t get it as of press time. Still, with power going to all four wheels, the car can still hustle from zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds – plenty impressive for a 2-ton luxury sedan.
These upgrades do come at a price, and the S 70D’s price jumps $5,000 over the outgoing model to about $75,000. On top of the performance and range upgrades, the car gets Tesla’s navigation, and blind spot detection, and new Autopilot hardware as standard. Borrowed from the P85D performance sedan is Tesla’s Supercharging capability, which you had to buy as an extra on the outgoing 60. This feature allows the car to charge at up to 120 kilowatts, fully charging the battery in around 80 minutes.
As Tesla continues to revise the Model S line (its only current production model) these updates provide some much-needed insight into the usually tight-lipped company. Speaking with Reuters, Musk said that less than 10% of Tesla buyers opted for the rear-wheel drive S 60, and this was a factor in deciding to discontinue the model. Within six months, Tesla has gone from offering one all-wheel drive model to three. Range and power have increased across the board, and while the base price has risen, these improvements may actually bring the company closer to its goal of an affordable base model by the end of the decade.
When the Model S was launched in 2012, a 235 horsepower, 40 kilowatt model with a 160 mile range was offered with a base price under $60,000. Three years later, the price of Tesla’s base car has risen $15,000, but its range has increased nearly 100 miles, gained 100 horsepower, all-wheel drive, and a larger battery. As Tesla continues to develop its battery technology and complete its Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada, the range of its cars should continue to increase while prices begin to drop. By the time the Model 3 is released in a few years, the cost of technology should have fallen enough to keep the car close to Musk’s projected $35,000 starting price.
Tesla has an ambitious goal of delivering 55,000 cars in 2015, including early deliveries of the long-awaited Model X. With the company winning a key legal battle over direct sales in New Jersey, and delivering 10,030 cars in the first quarter of the year, it’s off to a very good start. Even with a higher starting price, the S 70D is a more competitive car that the outgoing model, and another important step in the evolution of Tesla’s cars. In the span of a few years, Tesla has evolved more than some companies have in decades. Despite a price hike for the entry-level model, the S 70D is an important evolution for the Model S, and brings the company one step closer to its mass market goals.
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