After a week of growing speculation about electric car maker Tesla Motors' latest innovation, Chief Executive Elon Musk on Thursday night announced nothing more exotic than some new safety features and a boosted four-wheel-drive "D" version of the company's current Model S.
Tech and car buffs alike had been transfixed by a tantalizingly cryptic tweet Musk sent a week ago:
In the end, no fully self-driving car or other futuristic product was unveiled at the municipal airport in Hawthorne, near Los Angeles, which is home to Musk's other bleeding-edge enterprise, the rocket company SpaceX. Instead, the "D" is the designation for the dual-motor front-wheel-drive upgrade of the Model S — the second electric motor will allow the D to squeeze about 10 extra miles out of a single charge, with the newly designated top-of-the-line model able to go from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, Tesla said. "You'll be able to choose three settings: normal, sport and insane," Musk said after a robotic arm raised a chassis of the new car onto the stage.
The new safety features highlighted Thursday night are called Autopilot. They include sensors that Tesla said will be able to read speed-limit signs and slow the car down accordingly, a system that will change lanes automatically when the driver uses the turn signal and will allow the car to park itself, and 360-degree sonic sensors be able to sense "soft objects" like people and animals. "It's like active safety [within] the limit" of affordable science and regulations, Musk said.
— M. Alex Johnson