The Model S Plaid Just Shows We’re Still Waiting for a True Tesla Competitor

Underwhelmed by the new high-performance Tesla? Don’t be.

June 11, 2021 2:14 pm
A red Tesla Model S Plaid driving down the road
On Thursday night, Elon Musk delivered the Tesla Model S Plaid to 25 customers.

First he named Tesla’s electric vehicle lineup S-3-X-Y, then he priced one of them at the tongue-in-cheek $69,420, and now CEO Elon Musk has released a high-performance version of the Model S named after a scene in Spaceballs.

On Thursday night, Musk officially unveiled the Model S Plaid, which will start around $130,000, pack 1,020 horsepower, hit a top speed of 200 mph and go 0 to 60 mph in under two seconds. In explaining his reasoning for releasing a car this ludicrous, Musk said, “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.”

The response to the Plaid, however, has been lukewarm. Jalopnik pointed out that the 200 mph top speed is only achievable with wheels that aren’t available yet. Engineering Explained showed us that the 0-to-60 time is actually more than two seconds, since it requires a roll. And The Washington Post noted that the unveiling was overshadowed by the silence on Tesla’s upcoming projects like the Cybertruck pickup, Roadster sports car and Semi long-haul truck, as well as new battery cells. It turns out Elon’s antics aren’t enough to satisfy people anymore.

While we’ve doled out our fair share of criticism of Musk and Tesla, when we get down to it, what everyone is overlooking in the release of the Model S Plaid is that — nine years after the original Model S was released — we still don’t have a true competitor for Tesla in the electric car space. 

What do people want when they’re looking for electric cars? As a number of surveys have shown, including one from J.D. Power released earlier this year, “When deciding which electric vehicle to buy, the most-often-cited factor in the purchase decision is battery and driving range.” And despite the promise of so-called “Tesla killer” startups and new competition from automotive giants, Tesla still blows the competition out of the water when it comes to range.

On the new Model S Plaid, the estimated range is 390 miles. That’s more than 100 miles better than the longest-range Porsche Taycan (and 50+ miles better than even the most generous Taycan tests). It’s also more than 150 miles better than the new Audi E-tron GT. The only comparable electric cars that do better than Tesla, according to CNET’s Roadshow, are from Lucid Motors, a startup that has been cited as a Tesla competitor in many Plaid release stories. The problem with that comparison? Lucid has delayed production, taking a page out of the Tesla playbook. You can’t call someone a competitor until they actually have cars for sale.

Meanwhile, Tesla reportedly delivered the first 25 Model S Plaid cars to customers at the event last night and is hoping to ramp up to hundreds per week soon and 1,000 per week next quarter. 

The automaker may be notorious for overpromising and under-delivering, but the fact remains that Tesla under-delivering is still better than the competition. 

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