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Taking a page from Apple’s playbook of dramatic product launches, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk unveiled an all-wheel drive version of the company’s popular Model S sedan that will include autonomous-driving features at a packed event Thursday evening at the Hawthorn, Calif. airport.
The announcements were preceded by a week of speculative frenzy after Musk posted a cryptic message on Twitter that it was “about time to unveil the D and something else.” Some analysts predicted that Tesla would unveil a prototype of the Model 3 sedan, a midpriced model expected to enter production in 2017.
“There’s been a lot of speculation of what the “D” stands for,” Musk told the crowd, who appeared to hang on his every word. He explained that the reference was to the all-wheel drive’s dual motor configuration, which will increase the car’s performance.
“This car is nuts; it’s like having your own personal roller coaster,” Musk said, adding that the dual motor Model S will accelerate from zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds and that three driving modes would be accessible at the push of a button. “We’re going to have Normal, Sport and Insane,” Musk said, adding that the button “will actually say ‘Insane.’ “
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Tesla has been criticized for not imbuing the Model S, which stickers for $70,000, with features like all-wheel drive and adaptive cruise control, which are widely available in much less expensive cars. Musk said the autopilot features of the car — achieved through forward-looking radar, sonar and cameras that can recognize traffic signs and GPS positioning — will allow owners to remotely start it, engage accessories such as the radio and air conditioning and summon the car, as long as it is on private property. “It will slowly make its way to you,” Musk said.
Musk said all Model S cars produced in the last two weeks already have the cameras and sonar necessary for the autopilot features. Self-driving cars are thought to be inevitable and are arriving much sooner than anticipated. The autonomous driving features that Musk unveiled have been available for more than a year on the Mercedes-Benz S Class sedan.
An estimated 2,000 attended the event, which was held outside an airplane hangar emblazoned with an enormous Tesla logo and had the feel of an Academy Awards afterparty instead of an automobile launch.
There has been speculation that Tesla wants to increase its Hollywood presence, where the Model S reigns as the Industry status car du jour, as the company prepares to ramp up production of the Model X SUV, which will begin production in 2015 and has booked more than 20,000 preorders. The Model S was the the third-best-selling luxury car, gas or electric, in California last year.
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The charged atmosphere at the event, which was rife with unabashed fanboy behavior reminiscent of Apple’s iPhone launches under Steve Jobs, was further evidence that Musk has tapped into an emotional connection with Telsa customers — many of the attendees were Model S owners who received the same invitation to the event as the media.
“I think it’s amazing what he’s done,” Sharon Coce, a Model S owner from Yorba Linda, Calif., told The Hollywood Reporter. She added that when she and her husband picked up their Model S at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., Musk happened to be there and autographed the sun visor of their car. “That’s pretty cool,” Coce said.
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