Last week, I passed a Tesla Model S with the personalized license plate “0 EMISSN.” It was the eighth Model S I had seen that day, and the third with some sort of tedious Tesla-related vanity plate proclaiming that the car doesn’t emit anything, except for the owner’s smugness.
It was at this moment that I realized the Tesla Model S isn’t cool anymore.
The Model S has gone from “cool as a cucumber” to “cool as those oozing strips of lava in Hawaii that occasionally turn tourists into molten goop.” And I have decided that it shall be I, Doug DeMuro, who will inform you of this latest development.
But first, let’s discuss exactly how it happened.
I remember when I saw the very first Tesla Model S cars on the road, back in 2012. I lived in Atlanta at the time, and I would point them out to anyone I was with. “LOOK!” I would say, like a child who inspected a zoo exhibit for 11 minutes before he finally found the sloth. “A TESLA!” And the people I was with would always say the same thing: “A what?”
The Model S didn’t have enormous name recognition right away. It took a few more months before Tesla started outselling normal cars and people started figuring out exactly what it was. You may remember some of those excited headlines:
Tesla Model S Outsells Mercedes, BMW
Tesla Model S Is Most Popular Luxury Car In Denmark
Every Single Person In Norway Is Driving a Tesla Model S, Including Babies
Child Sees Zoo Sloth Driving Tesla Model S On Interstate
Tourist Steps On Hawaiian Lava Pits, Becomes Molten Goop
At this point, everyone was really excited about the Model S. It was the hottest car of 2013. That huge screen. The sleek sedany-hatchbacky look. The 300-mile range. Entire villages would empty when a Tesla Model S would drive by, and fathers would beam with pride, knowing they wouldn’t have to get their children anything else for Christmas.
Most importantly, it was surprisingly cheap. Back then, the starting MSRP for a Model S was something like $70,000, or roughly free if you took advantage of Elon Musk’s lease plan, which factored in the federal tax credit, and the state tax credit, and your fuel savings, and your time savings from traveling in the HOV lane, and your oil change savings, and the fact that you would probably find at least 80 cents in coins on the sidewalk each month, etc.
But that was more than three years ago. This is now.
These days, seeing a Tesla is like seeing a file cabinet. They’re everywhere. You see them on every block. You see them on every street. And half of them have those cringe-worthy plates like “NO OPEC,” or “KICK GAS,” or “L-ECTRIC,” which make you realize that associating with these people would be like going to an after-party at an orthodontists’ convention.
Now, I admit, Tesla has done a pretty good job keeping the Model S on the cutting edge with over-the-air software updates and new features. There’s now available all-wheel drive. There’s an “Ludicrous Mode” for quicker acceleration. And there’s even an autopilot mode that will a.) drive the car itself, and b.) terrify Michael Ballaban.
But in the notoriously fickle world of the luxury sedan, new features are not enough to sell a car. Luxury sedan buyers want a new style; a new feel; a new way to look down on the common man as they sit in a quiet cabin full of leather, wood, and tiny motors that move portions of the seat we didn’t previously know needed adjustment.
This is why the Mercedes-Benz S-Class retook the luxury sedan sales lead from the Tesla Model S the moment it was redesigned for the 2014 model year, despite a base price that’s more than $20,000 higher.
Of course, we all know that the cool new Tesla is no longer the Model S. It’s the Model X, a minivan with gullwing doors that finally brings the Tesla name to the crossover world. Only, there’s a problem: after years of speculation that the Model X would offer roughly the same pricing as the Model S, Tesla has announced that its gullwing minivan will start at $132,000 – a full $56,000, or 75 percent, more expensive than a base-level Model S. In other words: the Model X will be available to a much smaller sliver of the population than the Model S.
So will there be a newly redesigned Model S coming out to satisfy the rest of us? Tesla has been unusually quiet about that topic. This is strange, because Tesla has been known to schedule a press conference about virtually everything: a new lease deal, a new charging station, a new battery program, a new Elon Musk hairstyle, a new vendor for office fax machine maintenance, etc.
That leads me to believe the brand has its energy focused elsewhere: on a successful launch of the Model X, for instance, or the upcoming “affordable” Tesla that’s reported to be in development. The result is that the Model S will likely continue fading further into “uncool” territory, languishing in its current aging design. At least the owners are KCKN GAS.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.