Tesla Model S by Unplugged PerformanceEnlarge Photo
Tesla Motors is on a roll: Sales projections are strong. The company's attempts to upend the conventional manufacturer-dealer model seem to be working. (Except in New Jersey -- though that could change.) And Tesla's efforts to boost battery capacity could usher in a new Energy Age.
In fact, the only blemish on Tesla's near-perfect record is a string of car fires, which are now being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and its Canadian equivalent. Most of those occurred after the Model S hit debris, rupturing the battery tray beneath the vehicle.
Back in November, Tesla issued two upgrades to the Model S, hoping to ease owners' fire-related fears:
1. A software update to provide greater ground clearance and minimize the risk posed by roadway debris.
2. An upgraded warranty to cover vehicle fires, including those that resulted from "driver error".
But as we know, CEO Elon Musk isn't one to dodge problems, and this situation is no exception. According to a blog post from the man himself, the Model S now boasts three more protective layers, shielding the sedan's underbelly and protecting occupants from fire hazards:
1. "[A] rounded, hollow aluminum bar that is designed to either deflect objects entirely or, in the case of a self-stabilizing, ultra high strength object, like a three ball steel tow hitch, absorb the impact and force it to pike upwards well forward of the battery pack."
2. "[A] titanium plate, which...prevents sensitive front underbody components from being damaged and aids in neutralizing the road debris."
3. "[A] shallow angle, solid aluminum extrusion that further absorbs impact energy, provides another layer of deflection and finally causes the Model S to ramp up and over the object if it is essentially incompressible and immovable." [all emphasis ours]
Which pretty much sounds as if Musk & Co. have given the Model S the safety features of a good old-fashioned steam locomotive (complete with cattle-catcher) and a fully armored tank -- all without sacrificing the sedan's sleek lines.
Perhaps more remarkably, Musk says that these upgrades have little effect on performance, with the Model S' range reduced a mere 0.1 percent. The post states that the revamped Model S has the same ride and handling as before, and its aerodynamics are identical.
The three new features are standard equipment on all Model S vehicles built after March 6, 2014. Musk says that Tesla will also retrofit them onto any existing Model S, free of charge, at the owner's request.
In addition to the blog post -- in which Musk points out that the "odds of fire in a Model S...are five times lower than those of an average gasoline car" -- he's also uploaded some very nifty animated gifs of a new-and-improved Model S running over various objects. The car appears to do a great job of crushing a block of concrete and an alternator, and it seems to suffer no damage after hitting a tow hitch. We can't get the gifs to play properly here, but if you're looking for some destruction-filled Friday fun-time, you can click over to see them here.
For more in-depth coverage, be sure to check out this post from our colleagues at Green Car Reports.