2014 Tesla Model S 'P85D' all-wheel-drive modelEnlarge Photo
In an effort to simplify its assembly process and boost production rates, Tesla Motors has streamlined its 2014 Tesla Model S electric-car lineup and eliminated several variants.
Specifically, the California carmaker will no longer offer its P85 and P85+ performance versions in rear-wheel-drive form--those models will only be available now with Dual Drive all-wheel-drive.
And the version of its electric sport sedan with the smaller 60-kilowatt-hour battery pack will not be offered with all-wheel drive at all, eliminating the "60D" version as well.
"This helps us streamline the manufacturing and supply chain logistics and enables us to better ramp production," Elon Musk told analysts during Tesla's recent third-quarter earnings call.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk reveals Tesla Model S 'D' all-wheel-drive system, Oct 2014Enlarge Photo
The model cuts leaves Tesla with a lineup of four cars: the rear-wheel-drive 60- and 85-kWh versions with one motor, plus the dual-motor all-wheel-drive 85D and P85D.
Halo car deep-sixed
Tesla also reduced the number of colors available--bye bye, green and brown--and eliminated various options.
The now-departed Model S P85, with 416 horsepower and a 4.2-second 0-to-60-mph acceleration time, was the high-performance halo car that wowed car magazines and has starred in YouTube drag videos since the Model S first hit the marketplace in July 2012.
2014 Tesla Model SEnlarge Photo
The P85+ version had similar performance, but better high-speed handling due to wider rear tires and recalibrated suspension.
Both cars were superseded by the 691-hp all-wheel-drive dual-motor P85D, whose 0-to-60-mph acceleration is quoted at a mere 3.2 seconds.
Yawning price gap
While performance-at-all-cost types won't miss the P85, its disappearance leaves a $20,000 price gap between the P85D (at a $104,500 base price) and the next-cheapest model, the standard AWD 85D ($84,900).
The old P85, at a base price of $93,400, represented less than half that price premium over the 85D.
Then again, it also represented only about half the performance step-up.
Will that hefty premium discourage on-the-fence performance-seekers from stepping up to the P85D?
2014 Tesla Model S in ChinaEnlarge Photo
Not necessarily. The performance sub-brands of German luxury makes--AMG for Mercedes, "M" for BMW, and so forth--traditionally carry quite stiff premiums over the standard versions of the same car.
Still, we wonder how many Model S buyers might have preferred that middle ground: $8,500 extra for 4.2-second acceleration, rather than $20,000 for the "Insane" 3.2-second performance of the P85D.
Insane performance, and price
(Yes, the P85D's most aggressive driving mode is actually labeled "Insane" on the touch-screen mode selector.)
"In a way, it's forcing the customer to self-examine and more seriously define what he wants out of the car," a Tesla sales rep told me.
"You can't be just a little bit crazy any more. You've got to go totally insane."
At a totally insane price, we might add: A full-spec P85D goes for $138,000-plus.
2014 Tesla Model SEnlarge Photo
P85D buyers will at least have the option of spending "only" $104,000. Tesla originally announced that the P85D would come standard with 21-inch rims, high-performance tires, air suspension, and other goodies that pushed the base price above $120,000.
But in response to customer squawks, Tesla has now "de-contented" the base version, fitting it with coil suspension, standard 19-inch wheels, and regular all-season tires.
Those are the more sensible, reasonable choices, of course.
To select instead the wildly expensive, delicate, 21-inch rims; the wildly expensive, fast-wearing, temperature-sensitive, blow-out-prone performance tires; and the Rube Goldberg air suspension would be.....insane.
Also eliminated, after a brief theoretical lifetime of a few weeks, was the all-wheel-drive dual-motor 60-kWh version of the Model S.