In just over two days’ time, Tesla CEO Elon Musk will take to the stage at an exclusive event in California to announce the launch of something that Musk has enigmatically called ‘the D,‘ along with another major announcement he has only referred to as ‘something else.’
Within a few hours of Musk’s tweet announcing the event — not to mention a snapped photograph of a Tesla Model S fitted with a “P85-D” badge — the plug-in world came to the general consensus that the ‘D’ most likely referred to Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] unveiling a Model S fitted with dual motor, or all-wheel drive technology. Since the Tesla Model S and the upcoming Tesla Model X crossover SUV share the same chassis and the Model X will come with dual rather than single motor drive, that particular analysis seems the most logical, especially when you note that Tesla was due to showcase an all-wheel drive Tesla Model S at last week’s Paris Motor Show and didn’t.
So an all-wheel drive Tesla Model S seems like a dead cert, but now we’re seeing evidence gathering that Tesla’s ‘something else’ is actually the start of Tesla’s promised drive towards autonomous vehicles.
First of all, there was the sudden appearance of a page in the Tesla Model S owners’ manual which referred to Lane Departure Assist and Speed Warning technologies, followed a few days later by the discovery that some Tesla Model S cars were leaving Tesla’s Fremont factory with as-yet unseen cameras and sensors.
Now an insider close to Tesla has told Automotive News (subscription required) that Tesla’s announcement on Thursday will include the unveiling of a technology which will help Model S cars stay correctly centred in their lanes, as well as technology designed to help make driving in heavy traffic easier.
The source, which asked to remain anonymous says Automotive News, says that the Tesla announcement will put Tesla in line with other luxury automakers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW, both of which offer lane departure warning systems and adaptive cruise control on their vehicles.
Simon Sproule, Tesla’s Vice President of Communications — who announced this morning that he will be leaving the Californian automaker to join former Nissan colleague Andy Palmer at British luxury automaker Aston Martin — told Automotive News that Tesla recently started installing forward-facing cameras in its Model S cars in order to comply with new European Union legislation requiring all new cars be fitted with lane departure warning systems. He declined to comment on Tesla’s use of the feature outside of the EU and possible implementation of other self-driving technology.
Earlier this year at the Tesla Motors annual shareholder meeting, Musk promised that “in less than a year, you’ll be able to go from highway on ramp to highway exit without touching any controls,” indicating that perhaps Tesla’s self-driving technology was closer to market than previously thought. Automotive News‘ insider information, while only a rumor, seems to fit with this particular promise.
As a consequence, we’re pretty happy to call the content of Thursday’s unveiling as follows:
Firstly, expect Tesla to unveil an all-wheel drive, dual motor Tesla Model S. The “D” of course, referring to “Dual Motor.”
Secondly, we expect the “something else” to be the final inclusion of Lane Departure and Speed Assist technologies into the Model S, along with a demonstration of how the addition of this new hardware will lay the path towards semi-autopilot capabilities and perhaps in the not-too-distant future, a low-speed city drive mode similar to that being tested by Audi and other automakers right now.
Why not full autonomy? For a start, as far as we know, Tesla hasn’t been publicly testing any autonomous technology in any of the countries or states where autonomous driving technology is legal. In order to unveil any large-scale, immediate deployment of such a technology, Tesla would need to have spend many hundreds of hours in careful, public testing, not to mention completing the arduous legal task of ensuring any self-driving technology met with legal compliance.
Like the rest of the industry though, we’ll have to wait until Thursday evening to find out how close we are.
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