Tesla will hold a delivery event for its new, high-performance “Plaid” version of the Model S on Thursday. It’s an effort by Elon Musk’s company to reignite interest in its nearly decade-old electric sedan, which is also facing stiff competition from Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. When its released, Musk claims the Plaid Model S will be the “quickest production car ever made.”
The event, which will be held at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, CA, will be livestreamed for the public starting at 7PM PT / 10PM ET. It was originally scheduled for June 3rd, but Musk pushed it to the 10th after tweeting that the vehicle needed “one more week of tweak.”
The delivery of the refreshed Model S has also been delayed, with the company originally stating that it expected to begin shipping to customers in March. A revamped version of the Model X SUV was also expected to begin deliveries in March but has been pushed to an unspecified future date.
The Plaid Model S wasn’t inevitable. Despite persistent rumors for years, Musk seemed uninterested in the idea, tweeting in 2019 that “[t]here is no ‘refreshed’ Model X or Model S coming.” Tesla instead was constantly making minor improvements to both vehicles, he said.
But less than two months later, a prototype version of the Plaid powertrain made its debut at the Laguna Seca raceway, lapping the famous California racetrack in just one minute and 36 seconds. The company later showed off another prototype as part of its Battery Day presentation in September 2020. Plaid, much like the “Ludicrous” acceleration mode in Tesla’s cars, is a reference to one of Musk’s favorite movies, Spaceballs.
We already know most of the relevant specs: an estimated range of 390 miles, a top speed of 200mph (with the “right tires,” Musk has said), and a 0–60mph sprint in 1.99 seconds (although there’s been some questions about the validity of that last claim). The new model is priced at $129,990, compared to $79,990 for a long-range Model S. A “Plaid Plus” version of the Model S, which was supposed to have a range of more than 520 miles, was canceled after Musk tweeted that basic Plaid is “just so good.”
The new Model S will also feature a simplified interior, with a landscape touchscreen similar to what’s found in the Model 3 and Model Y. There’s also a stalkless U-shaped butterfly steering wheel, much like what Tesla has said will appear in the forthcoming second-generation Roadster. And there’s an added screen behind the center console for rear-seat passengers. Unlike the Model 3 and Model Y, the new Model S still features a cockpit screen behind the steering wheel.
Tesla says that the Plaid Model S should be able to do five times as many quarter-mile runs as previous Model S sedans, thanks to the new powertrain and the new heat pump that was developed for the Model Y. It will also come with an infotainment system that’s powered by a chip capable of 10 teraflops of processing power, allowing passengers to play games like The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 (with wireless controller support).
When it first launched in 2012, the Tesla Model S redefined electric luxury, with a sleek design and long driving range. But the company is facing a new wave of competition, with the release in recent years of the Porsche Taycan, Audi E-tron GT, Lucid Air, and Mercedes EQS. If Tesla wants to stay in the luxury EV game, it needed to make some changes to its flagship vehicle.
The abrupt cancellation of Plaid Plus, however, is raising questions about the automaker’s battery plans. Plaid Plus was supposed to feature Tesla’s new tabless 4680 battery cells. These cells, which are supposed to enable longer ranges of 500 miles or more, are bigger than the company’s current cells, measuring 46 millimeters by 80 millimeters (thus the name). In addition to more energy and power, the new cells are expected to result in a 14 percent reduction in cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) at the cell form factor level only.
Plaid Plus was supposed to get a range of 520 miles. While Musk could shock everyone Thursday night with a longer range Plaid than originally advertised, he also recently threw cold water on the idea of needing ranges longer than 400 miles. In a statement to Electrek, Musk said “more range doesn’t really matter. There are essentially zero trips above 400 miles where the driver doesn’t need to stop for restroom, food, coffee, etc. anyway.”
Ignoring for a moment that most restroom breaks last shorter than the time it takes to recharge an electric vehicle, Musk’s reversal on Plaid Plus could signal a delay in the production of Tesla’s 4680 battery cells. In addition to Plaid, the new cells are supposed to be used in Tesla’s Cybertruck and Semi vehicles, which are still expected later this year.
In an April earnings call, Musk said that Tesla was still “12… to 18 months away from volume production of 4680.” It remains to be seen whether we’ll get an update on that estimate at the event Thursday evening. But with Musk, you never know for sure.