Tesla's vision of an all-electric car future is still years off

Tesla made history Tuesday when it announced a new battery upgrade that allows the Tesla Model S with Ludicrous to drive 315 miles on a single charge, but as many have already noticed, very few will be able to experience it.

Tesla’s latest battery upgrade means the Model S with Ludicrous mode is the first electric car to surpass the 300-mile range mark. That’s a big deal, as a limited range is often seen as a weakness for EVs.

After all, it can be hard to justify shelling out thousands for a car that needs to be charged every 200 miles or so, especially when it can take hours to recharge without a SuperCharger. Sure, you may feel better about yourself buying the environmentally-friendly car, but knowing you can pump up a good old combustion vehicle in three minutes at the gas station and drive for longer typically trumps that appeal.

Tesla finally passing the 300 mile mark shows that electric cars are heading in the right direction, but the problem is the battery upgrade only appeals to a very niche (read: wealthy) customer base.

Tesla drivers who currently own a Model S P90D Ludicrous can upgrade to the 100 kWh packs for $20,000. Those who ordered a P90D Ludicrous, but haven’t received it yet can upgrade for $10,000. For those looking to buy now, the Model S P100D with Ludicrous mode starts at $134,500.

Those are some hefty prices, but Musk said on a call with journalists that starting with Tesla’s high-end cars was deliberate.

“You know, we get lambasted a lot for making expensive cars. But I just want to again reiterate that was never our goal in and of itself, our goal was always to make great affordable cars,” Musk said during a conference call with journalists on Tuesday. “We just need a few technology iterations and economies of scale to get there, and nothing would make me happier than to be able to build a great electric car that everyone can afford.”

Musk said Tesla will produce 200 of the new battery packs a week, which is about 10% to 12% of its total production volume. He said it’s limited because “the manufacturing complexity is significantly greater than the 90 kWh pack.”

Musk wasn’t specific as to when we could see a longer range in Tesla’s non-Ludicrous mode options, but said it will “probably be several months before we can offer the 100 kWh pack to non-performance customers.”

Increasing the range in Tesla’s luxury cars, even if it appeals to a small audience, was a smart move as competition mounts in the EV space to release cars with longer ranges.

Porsche is working on a Tesla killer with 300 miles of range that could pop up in showrooms in 2019. Audi is also beginning production of its new electric car in 2018 — the SUV will have a range of 310 miles on a single charge.

Those dates are worth keeping in mind as it coincides with Tesla’s planned release of the Model 3 — Tesla’s first affordable car priced at $35,000, which is slated for shipping by the end of 2017. That car will have a 215-mile range, but Musk has said you can shell out more money for a longer range.

This fits in with Musk’s latest battery upgrade announcement, as he said sales for the upgraded Model S and Model X will help pay to advance the range capabilities of Tesla’s more consumer-friendly EVs.

“It’s actually the people buying the expensive version of the car are really paying for that development to then scale up and then be available to other versions of the car,” Musk said.

Tesla is positioning itself to be the first to come out with a consumer-friendly electric car with a range that could finally incentivise people to let go of combustion engines. The announcement shows Tesla is not only trying to edge out the competition by being the first to exceed the 300-mile mark, but that it’s also positioning itself to have a consumer-friendly car ready with solid range capabilities the year competition will mount in the EV space.

But, we’re still a few years away from seeing Tesla really disrupt the electric car space, granted everything goes according to Musk’s plan.

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