Tesla Model S refresh tipped to make two huge changes

Chris Davies - May 29, 2019, 11:59 am CDT
Tesla Model S refresh tipped to make two huge changes

A heavily updated Tesla Model S could go into production as soon as September, insiders say, as the automaker’s most expensive sedan gets upgrades to better compete with luxury rivals. While not the first EV to bear the Tesla name, the Model S was Elon Musk’s first vehicle for the mass-market, paving the way for the Model X SUV, the Model 3, and the upcoming Model Y crossover.

Launched in mid-2012, it makes the Model S the oldest vehicle in Tesla’s line-up. That’s not to say it hasn’t undergone changes between then and now, mind. The automaker eschews the traditional model year system most car companies follow, where changes are made on a regular, annual basis.

Instead, the company takes more of an ad-hoc approach. That can mean making trim and design changes based on when it’s most financially appropriate for the factory, or – more commonly – pushing out new features via Tesla’s much-vaunted over-the-air software system. Still distinctive in the industry, it has seen features most rivals would charge money for as options on new vehicles being delivered, free, to existing cars.

The most obvious physical update came in 2016, when Tesla gave the Model S a new front fascia treatment among other changes. That helped bring it in line with the Model X. However other areas, most notably the cabin, have generally remained unchanged since the original car.

It has become an increasingly contentious point among potential Model S buyers, contrasting the EV with similarly priced alternatives. While pure-electric luxury sedans are still in short supply, the design and materials from automakers like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi are generally considered much better than what you’d find inside the Model S. The large central touchscreen, which Tesla uses as an interface for almost all of the car’s features, is still among the largest in the segment, but the rest of the dashboard is arguably beginning to show its age.

That’s something Tesla is said to be addressing this year. Sources inside the company say that its Fremont, CA factory is currently upgrading its facilities, both for the start of Model Y production and for what CNBC describes as “a full refresh” of the Tesla Model S. Production of the latter is apparently targeted to begin in September.

The updated car will have a new interior heavily influenced by the aesthetic of the Model 3, it’s said, echoing earlier rumors about Tesla’s new cabin strategy. The Model 3 proved a stark departure from most dashboard designs, ditching the typical cowl form and instead suspending a large, central touchscreen on an extended post. That handles all of the instrumentation, in addition to features like Autopilot, navigation, multimedia, and HVAC. Clean surfaces and hidden vents add to a generally minimalistic feel, which Tesla is said to be echoing on the redesigned Model S.

That smaller, more affordable car will also donate its drive units, it’s reported, along with the seats used in the more expensive, premium cabin. Range will also be extended, with Tesla said to be targeting 400 miles from the updated car. Currently the Model S is rated for up to 370 miles of EPA range.

Tesla blamed a number of factors for a decline in Model S and Model X deliveries in Q1 2019. That combined figure fell to 12,100 vehicles, which the automaker said was primarily down to weaker seasonal demand, people trying to get orders in during Q4 2018 so as to get the maximum US federal tax credit before it halved at the start of this year, and the discontinuation of the smallest 75 kWh battery. Changes in pricing for the performance versions of the cars, meanwhile, saw orders for those trims outpace Tesla’s production capacity for them specifically.

Still, there’s no denying that the time is ripe for an updated Model S in the face of luxury competition like the S-Class, 7 Series, and A8. Waiting in the wings, meanwhile, are hotly-anticipated all-electric cars like the Porsche Taycan, which are expected to compete with Tesla directly on performance and range. That leaves Tesla facing some deep-pocketed rivals, at a time when the automaker is already on an austerity drive.

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