Electric carmaker Tesla Motors is giving its Model S sedan an upgrade.
Tesla unveiled a faster, safer all-wheel-drive version of its Model S sedan Thursday night. The additions will help the Model S better compete with other luxury sedans.
The announcement put to rest a week of feverish speculation. Tesla CEO Elon Musk hinted about the news last week with a tweet that said, "About time to unveil the D and something else."
On Thursday, he said the "D'' stands for "dual motor." The current Model S is a rear-wheel-drive car with one motor. The "D'' designation will mean that the car has two motors powering both the front and rear wheels.
Musk said unlike all-wheel-drive systems on gas-powered cars, which tend to be heavy and make the cars less efficient, Tesla's system improves the speed, acceleration and mileage by optimizing which motor is used at any given time.
The all-wheel-drive version of the P85 performance version will have a top speed of 155 mph, compared with 130 mph for the current version. It will also accelerate from 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds, putting it in the range of an exotic sports car.
"This car is nuts. It's like taking off from a carrier deck," Musk told a crowd of several hundred Tesla fans gathered at a municipal airport near Los Angeles. The airport is where another of Musk's companies — the commercial rocket firm SpaceX — is based.
All-wheel drive will be a $4,000 option on the base and midrange Model S, which start at $71,000. The base price for the P85 with all-wheel drive — which will be known as P85D — is $120,000. The P85D will go on sale in December, while the other versions will go on sale in February.
Analysts have said Tesla needed an all-wheel drive system to boost sales in the Northeast and Midwest as well as in Europe. Tesla sales could use a boost — the company sold 13,850 cars in the U.S. through September, down 3 percent from a year ago, according to Autodata Corp.
"If Tesla wants to be seen a true competitor to brands like Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, it needs to offer all-wheel drive," said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
Tesla has promised that its new Model X crossover, which is expected to go on sale next year, will also have an all-wheel-drive system. The company recently upgraded its factory in the San Francisco Bay Area to produce the Model X, so it makes sense to add the system to the Model S, which is produced at the same facility.
Tesla is also significantly upgrading its safety features.
The Model S will now offer lane-keeping assist, which steers the car back if it wanders from its lane, and automatic braking if the car is about to hit something. Those features are already offered on luxury competitors, including Audi and Cadillac, as well as mainstream brands like Ford, Hyundai and Toyota.
But Tesla is going a step further than others. Its new system will move the car over a lane when the driver uses the turn signal. It will also read speed limit signs and adjust the car's speed to that on the sign. Volvo also has a system that reads speed limit signs and will alert drivers if they're exceeding them, but it doesn't adjust the car's speed.