Happy Birthday, Tesla Model S: Luxury Long-Range Performance Electric Car Turns Three

It may not feel like it, but three years ago today, Tesla Motors delivered the very first Tesla Model S to Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] board member Steve Jurvetson.

The actual event — more of a handover ceremony than a delivery — took place on Sunday June 3, 2012 at the very Fremont, Calif. factory where the Tesla Model S is made, immediately after the luxury electric sedan had received all the necessary regulatory paperwork from U.S. agencies to make it legal for sale in the U.S.

What are your favourite Tesla Model S moments of the past three years?

What are your favourite Tesla Model S moments of the past three years?

And while the first production Model S cars weren’t delivered until nearly three weeks later, when venture capitalist Jason Calacanis and nine other customers picked up their Model S electric cars at a similar event at the Fremont facility, we can treat today as the Model S’ third birthday.

In light of that illustrious occasion, we thought we’d share some neat facts about the Model S that you may have forgotten — or perhaps never known.

70,000 Estimated Deliveries, Seven Different Variants

While Tesla hasn’t yet officially confirmed this milestone, global if we take confirmed sales data to the end of Q1, 2015, Tesla had sold more than 66,812 Model S cars since the first car rolled off the production line in 2012 to the end of March 2015. During Q1, Tesla achieved 10,030 sales, equating to an average sales of 3,343 cars per month.

If we extrapolate that figure forward and assume a consistent sales volume, we predict the 70,000 car sales mark was passed some time last week.

During that time, Tesla has made seven different variants of the Tesla Model S, ranging in battery capacity and performance from the original entry-level 40 kWh Tesla Model S through to the its current flagship, the Tesla Model S P85D.

The forgotten 40 kWh model

When the Tesla Model S was first unveiled, it was announced that it would be available in three different pack sizes: 40 kilowatt-hours, 60 kilowatt-hours, or 85 kilowatt-hours. Intended as an affordable entry-level model, the 40 kilowatt-hour Tesla Model S was designed to give around 160 miles of range per charge and cost just $59,900 before incentives.

But after just 4 percent of all Tesla customers ordered the 40 kilowatt-hour model, the car came the first Model S variant to get the chop in 2013, with Tesla instead building 60 kilowatt-hour Model S cars for customers who had ordered a 40 kilowatt-hour model and electronically restricting the battery pack to 162 miles of range.

Those wishing to upgrade their battery pack to the 60 kilowatt-hour model were then given he option of doing so by removing the digital restriction for $10,000.

Tesla's futuristic factory and software-development attitude to design has helped it develop new models extremely quickly.

Tesla’s futuristic factory and software-development attitude to design has helped it develop new models extremely quickly.

Revolutionary Updates

We can’t celebrate the Model S’ fourth birthday without giving due credit to its revolutionary over-the-air update system. Since the Model S first rolled off production lines in 2012, Tesla has continuously updated customers cars with the latest features and technology via free, over-the-air updates.

As well as being the first automaker in history to continue to add features to customers cars long after they’ve left the factory, Tesla has used its over-the-air updates to address several issues which would have ordinarily required a visit to a dealer or service centre — including a precautionary update pushed to customers’ cars to limit vehicle ride height adjustment after a spate of accidents involving debris puncturing the underside of a Tesla Model S battery pack.

Although only a precaution, the update allowed Tesla to respond to a potential safety threat faster than any other automaker has in history, and demonstrates the versatility of Tesla’s over-the-air update system.

Later this year, that same over-the-air update will deliver partial autonomous driving capabilities to Tesla Model S cars made after October 2014, making them the first production cars to offer autopilot capabilities.

Longer, Faster, Harder

We’ve got to admit when we first sat in the back of an alpha Tesla Model S prototype at an official event in Fremont back in October 2011, we thought it was a pretty darned fast car.

But over the past three years, Tesla has constantly improved its Model S lineup, throwing away traditional automotive conventions of model-year updates and instead implementing new technologies and drivetrain advancements as and when they were ready for market.

If we ignore the few people with ‘capacity-limited’ Model S 40s who paid to unlock the extra capacity of the 60 kilowatt-hour battery pack, the first of these — the Tesla Model S P85+ upgrade — was the first true upgrade to the Tesla Model S lineup.

While Tesla faced some reliability issues in the early days, the Model S is highly rated by most news outlets.

While Tesla faced some reliability issues in the early days, the Model S is highly rated by most news outlets.

While it didn’t do anything to improve on the top speed of the Tesla Model S P85, but did change the suspension, wheels and tyres for more performance-oriented ones that many owners report as giving the car a more ‘planted’ feel on the road. It was available for around $12,000 to existing Tesla Model S P85 owners.

Then came the Tesla Model S Dual Motor upgrade as announced last year in the form of the Tesla Model S 85D and P85D. Offering customers all-wheel drive for the first time, both the 85D and P85D are more powerful and energy efficient than the single-motor Model S 85 and P85+ they were designed to replace. (For now, the S85 is still available, but we’d guess Tesla will soon drop that option as it did the Model S40 and Model S 60.

In addition to giving Tesla a new flagship model with a 3.1-second 0-60 time in the form of the Tesla Model S P85D, Tesla CEO Elon Musk used the same event to unveil a complete redesign of the Model S’ internal circuits, adding autonomous driving hardware to each and every Model S made after October 2014 to one day enable auto-pilot self-driving features via an over-the-air update.

The Dual Motor Model S  is the latest in Tesla's long line of improvements.

The Dual Motor Model S is the latest in Tesla’s long line of improvements.

(We recently got behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S P85D in the UK, and you can find out our thoughts on it here.)

Finally, this spring, Tesla unveiled the Tesla Model S70D, a dual-wheel motor, longer-range entry level model to replace the Tesla Model S60.

While the evolution of the model might seem fairly trivial today, we’d like to point out that each new upgrade — especially the switch to dual motor drive with autonomous driving hardware — is usually the kind of thing we see form automakers after a car has been on the market for six or maybe even seven years.

Tesla has managed this all in three.

What’s your favourite?

Tesla’s time in the marketplace hasn’t been all roses and puppy dogs. In addition to the various scares involving battery pack fires post high-speed impact (something Tesla was quick to respond to) Tesla’s initial cars had some significant quality control issues.

Overall however, Tesla’s Model S electric car has been more than stellar, offering the majority of customers satisfaction levels never before seen in a production luxury sedan. And for that, we think Tesla deserves some attention.

Here at Transport Evolved, we’d like to hear some of your favourite facts and thoughts about the Tesla Model S as it turns three. Perhaps it’s the free updates, or the masses of YouTube videos?

Regardless of your top picks and favourite moments, leave them in the Comments below.


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