Tesla Model S: Why there may not be an exterior refresh anytime soon

2018 was the year of Suv. So was 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. It’s fondly known as the SUV craze in automotive circles.

It’s not a great time to be a sedan, even when you are blessed with genes from the Tesla family. And it’s not a regional phenomenon, it’s a global phenomenon as well.

48,680 customers around the world bought Tesla Model X in 2018, while 50,630 customers chose the comparatively cheaper Tesla Model S. If Tesla had priced Model X and Model S at the same level, Model X, the SUV would have shown a clean pair of heels to Model S, the sedan.

Starting Price in the United States

Tesla Model S 75D: $66,750

Tesla Model X 75D: $72,950

It was indeed a difficult year for Tesla Model S. The model has been on the road for the last six years, received a mild exterior update in 2016 and most updates to date remain incremental. We still don’t know if Tesla would refresh the exterior.

Tesla Model S Interior
Tesla Model S interior

Make no mistake, the car keeps improving from a technology standpoint. Thanks to over the air updates, Tesla vehicles can even improve braking distance with a simple software update pushed over the air. That’s not something that we have seen happen in the automotive industry before.

An update of that kind would generally involve setting up an appointment, a to and fro trip to the service center and lots of wasted travel and waiting time. But we know that’s the time we need to pay for the benefit of owning the car and we gladly accepted it as the cost of ownership.

But Tesla changed that equation completely. It also helps that Tesla kept things simple on the inside. A gigantic screen in the middle is going to look the same ten years from now. What will you ask for? A better looking touch screen?

Even the door handle was smartly hidden to be part of the car. No need to change them as the design looks outdated after a couple of years because it’s less of a design and more of an idea. A handle that retracts itself.

People say that Tesla cars have a long clean dash. And the reason is becoming clear now. It will never look totally out of date, ever. It looks simple in design today and it will look simple ten years from now.

Tesla’s design philosophy does help its vehicles age gracefully over the years and the company’s CEO does not think that Tesla’s need a mid-cycle refresh. No one knows if Tesla Model S will ever get a complete exterior redesign.

We don’t think it’s going to happen in a hurry. Not just Model S, but for Model X and Model 3 as well. Let’s call it part of Tesla’s madness.

A Tesla Model S owner wrote the following on Tesla forum after talking to Tesla service center representatives.

“The Model 3 was designed to belong to the current S and X family. No refresh on any of these models is coming until after Roadster, Model Y, and Semi are well into production. Tesla believes the current family is optimized from a hardware perspective and efforts are now on producing the upcoming models and increasing service efforts. For Models S/X/3 it will be software updates.”

His statement makes logical sense. The Tesla Model S that will roll out in the second half of 2019 may have the same exterior design, but it will have an on-board computer that will be ten times faster than the current generation. If you are going to buy a Tesla Model S in 2019, these things do play a role before you hit the pay now button.

Musk underscored Tesla’s software strength when he responded to a twitter user who asked him about Model S refresh.

He said, “Get this question a lot, so need to clarify that there’s no such thing as a Tesla “refresh”. Other car companies do this every ~3 years, but Tesla constantly upgrades vehicle hardware every week.”

Tesla started off with Autopilot Hardware 1, the current line up rolls out of Fremont runs on Hardware 2 and the company expects Hardware 3 to be ready sometime in mid-2019.

When you buy cars from other automakers you know that your car is going to stay the same for many more years. But things are not the same when you own a Tesla.

As much as Elon Musk hates being compared to Steve Jons, his design philosophy looks the same as the greatest designer of our times. Steve Jobs changed the smartphone industry by launching a phone without a keyboard.

“Hard plastic buttons are going to be there whether you need them or not”, he said in 2007 while launching the iPhone.

Steve Jobs launching iPhone in 2007
Steve Jobs threw the keyboard away from smartphones

Tesla did nearly the same by increasing the reach of software in its vehicles and kept upgrading the hardware. The design made it easier to constantly improve the vehicle.

Tesla Model S that you bought in 2018 will not be the same in 2019, it would have improved on its own due to software updates. For buyers, 2019 Model S will not be the same as 2018 Model S because the hardware would have been incrementally upgraded.

It will be many more years before we see a complete exterior design refresh of Tesla Model S, if there is ever going to be one. Not just for Tesla Model S, but for all Tesla vehicles.

Simple Tesla Model 3 Interior
Tesla Model 3s simple interior. What will you upgrade?

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