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Tesla: An apple on four wheels

Tesla takes a different approach to building, selling and servicing cars
Friday, January 2, 2015 - 09:00
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On Oct. 10, 2014, Tesla CEO Elon Musk pulled back the wraps to unveil the latest Tesla offering, the Tesla S-D. The D stands for “dual motor” and heralds the introduction of All Wheel Drive (AWD) to the Tesla model line. Long been considered by many automotive enthusiasts a weakness to the standard Model S, the AWD version brings the Tesla closer to competing with other top-of-the-line nameplates with one very noticeable exception.

“This car is nuts,” Musk told the assembled crowd. “It’s like taking off from a carrier deck. It’s bananas. It’s like having your own personal roller coaster you can use anytime.”

Choose the P85D (performance option), and your new Model S will come equipped with an 85kWh (kilowatts/hour) lithium-ion battery pack mated to a 221 hp electric motor on the front and a 470 hp sister on the rear. Together, the two electric drives will propel the Model S P85D from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and take it up to a top speed exceeding 150 mph. Drive it a little more conservatively, and the specs say you will go 265 miles between charges; remember, the Tesla is a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV).

In addition to the AWD announcement, new safety features were introduced, including a semi-autonomous package called “Autopilot.” Primarily added to meet European safety standards, the system uses cameras and radar to look for objects, including other cars, and to track highway dividers and markings. This is not unique to the automotive industry, but does help pave the way for future developments in autonomous driving, which Musk stated is still “five to six years away from being reality.” It also provides for features like active lane control, active emergency braking and self-parking.

With a price tag topping $120,000, the P85D was to begin delivery to buyers in December 2014. The lower end offerings (the 60D and 85D) are scheduled for availability in February 2015. While the Model S seems to still offer the rear wheel drive only option, the AWD release removes that option to buyers of Tesla’s first SUV, the Tesla Model X, slated to be available later in 2015 or early 2016.

A Little Tesla History
Tesla Motors, Inc. is named after Nikola Tesla, and the motor used in its proof-of-concept Roadster actually was based on Tesla’s original 1882 design. The company was incorporated in 2003, and Musk joined the company in 2004, taking the company public in 2010.  

Its first car, the Roadster, was presented as a 2008 model and was the first fully electric sports car ever offered, as well as the first BEV to use a lithium-ion battery pack. The battery pack itself is unique in that it uses thousands of 18650 commodity cells rather than the more common, larger format, single purpose cells.  They are a unique version of the 18650 cell that you might find in your laptop, but cheaper to manufacture and lighter than the conventional cell. The battery design allowed the Roadster to become the first EV to have a range greater than 200 miles. Since it’s introduction, Tesla has sold more than 2,300 Roadsters around the world.

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