A few weeks ago, there was a stir on the automotive internets about Tesla and “The D”. It was a secretive event that was rumored to be groundbreaking. Shocking. Mystifying.
Then Thursday, October 9 came. Tesla had their announcement. And Thursday went. Instead of the “shock and awe” we felt about the Gigafactory, we left shocked saying “awwww….”.
What Tesla did was to announce they added all-wheel-drive as an option for upcoming Model S’s. And they announced a new autopilot feature.
The announcement was a yawn. Why? Three reasons:
- Since the Model X SUV is coming soon, they’ve already developed an AWD drivetrain for it. So bolting existing production technology onto the S is big news?
- Autopilot is very cool, we’ll discuss later. But, given Google’s self-driving car, Mercedes “Intelligent Drive”, and self-parking features found on production models from 2010 and on, is it worth all the hype?
- What was revealed is what experts expected.
- Someone in Tesla’s communications department was allowed to overhype what should have been a very nice, medium-sized technical announcement. It was the lead-up to Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks all over again.
Here’s some copy on AWD from Tesla’s official statement about “D” day:
Conventional all wheel drive vehicles distribute power to the wheels from a single engine driving a complex mechanical transmission system. By contrast, Dual Motor Model S, which comes with either the 60 kWh or 85 kWh battery, has a motor on each axle, digitally and independently controlling torque to the front and rear wheels. The result is unparalleled control of traction, with instantaneous response to the motors giving drivers precisely controlled performance in all conditions. With its digital torque controls and low center of gravity, Dual Motor Model S has the most capable road holding and handling of any vehicle ever produced.
Where gasoline-powered all wheel drive cars sacrifice efficiency in return for all weather traction, Tesla’s Dual Motor propulsion system actually increases efficiency while delivering exceptional traction and control in slippery conditions. By precisely splitting the delivery of current from the battery to each motor, the Model S 85D and 60D actually gain an additional 10 miles of highway driving range compared to their rear motor Model S counterparts.
Sounds really cool. But Porsche was already doing this when they developed and produced the 918 Spyder. Other carmakers are adding electric motors at each wheel, or axle in order to maximize efficiency and extend range. It’s not new, it’s just Tesla’s version of what people are doing. It’s cool, it’s necessary, it’s expected. But was it worth the hype?
Here’s some electronic ink on Autopilot:
The launch of Dual Motor Model S coincides with the introduction of a standard hardware package that will enable autopilot functionality. Every single Model S now rolling out of the factory includes a forward radar, 12 long range ultrasonic sensors positioned to sense 16 feet around the car in every direction at all speeds, a forward looking camera, and a high precision, digitally controlled electric assist braking system…Model S will be able to steer to stay within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by reading road signs and using active, traffic aware cruise control. It will take several months for all Autopilot features to be completed and uploaded to the cars.
This is some really cool stuff–and I like the pushback against Google’s self-driving bug mobile. Be sure to watch the video. Musk talks about some really cool automated driving that the car can do. But I’m pretty sure I’ve regularly seen a car commercial in the last 6 months selling a similar radar-based accident avoidance system. Again, this stuff is already out there. This is just Tesla’s version of it.
Perhaps with Tesla’s recent announcements–things that truly were VERY BIG and QUITE BREATHTAKING they thought that they needed to crank up the hype machine in the same old way. Or maybe we’re overly sensitive to whatever Musk is going to say and the letdown was a natural product of our own inflated expectations.
Whatever it was, I’m glad Tesla had their “D” day. The developments are great. But, unfortunately not worth the hype.
Having said that, I’m thinking the announcement for the “X” will be good. I’m a fanboy.