Elon Musk Celebrates the Production Rollout of the Tesla Model S Plaid

·8 min read
Photo credit: Tesla
Photo credit: Tesla
  • Elon Musk presided over the rollout of the first Model S Plaid last night.

  • The car has crazy performance: 0-60 in 1.99, quarter mile in 9.23 at 155, top speed of 200 mph.

  • Sticker price is $129,990

“Basically our product plan is stolen from Space Balls,” said a moon-pie-grinning Elon Musk on stage at his Fremont car factory. “We’ve gone plaid!”

Spaceballs, of course, was the seminal Mel Brooks spoof on the Star Wars franchise that featured a speed beyond light that was called, in the movie, “plaid.” And just like the spaceship commanded by Rick Moranis’ character Dark Helmet, Tesla, commanded by Elon Musk, has made the leap beyond hyperspace directly to Plaid.

The Model S Plaid, that is. Musk took to a stage last night at his Fremont, Calif. factory, where Plaid production is now underway, to celebrate the first Plaid to roll off the Fremont assembly line. And it sounds like a car that even Dark Helmet would like.

With two torque-vectoring electric motors in the rear and one non-torque-vectoring motor in the front combining for 1,020 hp, the new Model S Plaid can go from 0-60 in a claimed 1.99 seconds, the fastest of any production car ever, Musk said. It’ll do the quarter mile in 9.23 seconds, and can hit a top speed of 200 mph.

Despite all that performance, Musk claimed the car has a range of 390 miles and can get 187 miles of charge in 15 minutes at a Tesla Supercharger.

Photo credit: Tesla
Photo credit: Tesla

While last night's ceremony was for the first production Model S Plaid to roll off the assembly line, the car had been announced in January.

There is already controversy around at least one of the Plaid's performance claims, the 0-60 time of 1.99 seconds. That figure is achieved with a "rollout" of one foot, meaning the electronic timers don't start until the car has already gone a foot down the track, enough to get it up to as much as six mph by some estimates. Numerous car magazines use a one-foot rollout in testing (cough - us - cough) and some are rumored to use a three-foot rollout. So rollouts are semi-established. In drag racing it’s called shallow staging. So 1.99 seconds makes as much sense as any testing claim.

Another potential conflict with reality was Musk's discussion of all the things you can do while your car drives you around, including watching movies. For the record, your car - even if it's a Model S Plaid - can't do that yet. Tesla's Autopilot is only a Level 2 driver assistance program, according to SAE.

But enough petty bickering. Musk also detailed numerous improvements that come with the Plaid (even though it was not the Plaid Plus, more on that in a minute).

"We've made huge improvements from the original car," Musk said.

For instance:

“Something we're really proud of is the new carbon-sleeved rotors for the motor,” he said. “This is the first time that there's - to the best of our knowledge - been a production electric motor that had a carbon overwrap rotor.”

The design is where the rotor is wound tightly in carbon fiber strands to keep it together at high rpm.

“This is a super-hard thing to do because carbon and copper have very different rates of thermal expansion,” Musk said. “In order to do a carbon overwrap rotor, you've got to wind it at extremely high tension, it’s a very hard thing to do. We actually had to design the machine that makes the rotor, no such machine existed before. But it also means that we can make the electromagnetic field super-efficient and have a tight gap even at super-high rpm.”

It’s necessary because, as Musk reminded the Fremont faithful, the motor uses just one gear all the way up to 200 mph.

“RPM is so crazy that just the centrifugal force wants to expand the rotor. So the carbon overwrap actually holds the rotor together. It's madness.”

Motor speeds are up to 20,000 rpm, “maybe a little more,” Musk said.

Photo credit: Tesla
Photo credit: Tesla

Other technological advances include:

  • A coefficient of drag of 0.208 “with the wheels rolling,” Musk pointed out.

  • The Plaid gets “the latest and greatest heat pump,” which offers “30% better cold-weather range and requires 50% less energy.”

  • The radiator is twice as big so, Musk said, “You’ll be able to actually do back-to-back zero to 60s, go on the track, just haul ass.”

  • Increasingly higher charging speeds are coming at the 25,000 Tesla Superchargers worldwide, “…250 kilowatts, to 280, 300, 350,” Musk promised.

  • Musk also promised the “lowest overall probability of injuries of any car tested,” showing as proof of this a bar graph on which the top five cars were Teslas.

  • Inside the new Plaid, that famous 17-inch screen goes from a vertical to horizontal orientation, and is raised up on the dash. “It's easier to watch movies and that kind of thing in landscape,” Musk said.

  • The yoke steering wheel is still there and looks like it’ll be on production Plaids. “Once you try it, you'll think it's great.”

  • The stalks sticking out from the steering column have been eliminated. The screen and wheel-mounted buttons take over those functions previously done with the stalks.

  • The rear seat is more reclined and back-seat passengers have a centrally mounted screen that allows them to “control everything.” There are dual inductive chargers in back (and front), there’s a 36-watt USB C plug, and Bluetooth will allow multiple wireless activities simultaneously.

  • The 17-inch main touchscreen is improved. “It feels like a movie theater, the sound is incredible, it's like a home theater experience. So if you're sitting somewhere, waiting at a supercharger, you just catch up on whatever your favorite Netflix show, or iTunes, whatever the case may be. And, of course, you can also play video games in front or rear seats. “Basically, the system feeds all three screens.”

  • It has tri-zone HVAC. “Similar to the Model 3, instead of having air vents we use intersecting columns of air. We just vary the speed of the air. So there's no air vents that you can see, you can just touch the screen and move the screen around and it'll just move the air wherever you want it.”

  • “We have an all-new sound system designed by Tesla Audio, with acoustic glass throughout the car so the car is very quiet when going down the highway. Even at very high speeds, like 100 miles an hour, (it’s) still quiet.”

  • The new user interface works with your calendar. “You just get in the car and swipe down from ‘navigate,” Musk said. “You don't have to enter anything, the car will automatically figure out if you want to go to home, to work, or whatever's on your calendar. It'll default to calendar priority. So if you're at home, and it’s a weekday, you just swipe down and it automatically navigates to work and checks traffic to give you an optimal route.”

Photo credit: Tesla
Photo credit: Tesla

This Plaid is so good, Musk claims, that it eliminates the very need for the previously-planned Plaid Plus. Anybody remember Plaid Plus? Musk officially cancelled it just four days ago, which may explain the seemingly hastily arranged Plaid production launch party we just watched via livestream. The Plaid Plus would have offered a claimed range of over 520 miles, 1,100 horsepower, and 0-60 in the same “under 2.0 seconds.” It would have been the quickest, most powerful, most expensive version of the Tesla Model S ever. The Plaid Plus was announced during last summer's Battery Day. Then Musk dropped the news of its cancellation, as he does with everything, on Twitter, and without much elaboration.

The actual reasons for the Plaid Plus’ cancellation will now be left to pundits and internet commentors. Many think it had to do with a dire shortage of Tesla’s coming 4680 batteries and the structural battery packs they were to be housed in. Such a setup would have lowered the overall weight of the Plaid Plus while increasing its rigidity.

But there has been no official word on that. Indeed, Musk made no mention of batteries at all during his presentation except one half a line where he said, without any elaboration, “So we have an all-new battery pack.”

Pricing will likewise be different on the Plaid than it would have been on the Plaid Plus. Musk said the sticker price for the Plaid is $129,990, not including destination. The Plaid Plus sedan was initially announced with a target price of $139,990, but gained another $10,000 later on along with an expected launch date in mid-2022, setting its sights on the upcoming AMG version of the Mercedes-Benz EQS and the upcoming Lucid Air. Until it was canceled, the Plaid Plus was displayed on the Tesla website with a $149,990 price tag—well north of the starting price of the upcoming Mercedes-Benz EQS electric flagship.

Regardless, is there a bigger picture here? Of course there is.

“What we really wanted to achieve here is like, well, ‘Why make this really fast car that's crazy fast and everything?’ And I think there is something that's quite important to the future of sustainable energy, which is that we've got to show that an electric car is the best car, hands down. It's got to be clear.”

It’s just that the Plaid Plus would have been better.