Tesla Motors doesn't do advertising, but when founder Elon Musk tweets, people listen. And when he tweeted a photo of a garage door partially hiding a Tesla, along with the words, "About time to unveil the D and something else," people starting talking. The status was retweeted close to 15,000 times and favorited over 10,000 times. And last night the company revealed what the big deal was.
The company will offer an all-wheel-drive system in its all-electric Model S sedan, Mr. Musk revealed at an airport hangar in Hawthorne, Calif., outside Los Angeles, as robotic arms swung the chassis of the new awd system through the air on stage.
About time to unveil the D and something else pic.twitter.com/qp23yi59i6— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 2, 2014
In the Model S naming conventions, the letter "D" will stand for "dual motor."
Cars equipped with Tesla's new awd system will have a second electric motor mounted above the front axle to power the front wheels, joining the electric motor that sits over the rear axle in all current versions of the car. Mr. Musk said the dual-motor Model S has quicker acceleration, better grip and a longer range -- despite its added weight -- because it automatically adjusts its use of the two motors to maximize efficiency.
"Literally, everything about the car improves with dual-motor," he told an audience that consisted largely of Model S owners and Tesla employees.
Tesla, which hopes the added grip of the awd system will make the Model S more appealing to buyers in snowy climates, plans to offer it in all trim levels. It will be called the 60D, 85D or P85D, depending on whether the car has a 60- or 80-kilowatt-hour battery pack and whether the owner opted for the "performance pack."
"I think there will be a whole class of new buyers for whom all-wheel drive is extremely important," Mr. Musk told reporters last night. "They don't really care that much about performance, but they really want the all-wheel drive."
And the "something else" mentioned in the tweet? During last night's event, Mr. Musk also revealed driver-assistance systems that use cameras and radar to prevent drivers from drifting off the road or striking a car ahead of them when using cruise control.
Tesla's approach offers features that the systems from its premium rivals, such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW, do not. Though drivers are legally bound to pay attention at all times, the Model S will not force them to keep their hands on the wheel, Mr. Musk said. And if the driver pushes the turn signal lever, the car will change lanes on its own.
"Once we upload the software over the next two or three months," Mr. Musk told reporters, "the Model S will have the most sophisticated driver assistance or autonomous functions of any [production] car on the road."
Tesla's production line started equipping the Model S with the necessary cameras and sensors about two weeks ago. Mr. Musk has positioned these sorts of features as a stepping stone to autonomous driving.
"We're going to push the limit of what's safe with this level of hardware and what's allowed by regulations," Mr. Musk told the audience.
Musk told reporters that the company expects to have a "fully autonomous car" in five or six years,"with the regulators maybe taking two or three years beyond that to approve" the system.
And in an update on Tesla's long-promised battery-swap program, he said that Tesla plans to open its first station, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, within the next two months.
--Gabe Nelson is a reporter for Automotive News