Tesla’s 60 Kilowatt-Hour Model S is Back

By · June 15, 2016


2017 Tesla Model S

Tesla announced last week that it will bring back the Model S 60—a version of the car with slightly less driving range. The change is coming about one year after the 60-kWh version was discontinued in April 2015. The new S 60 will start at $66,000—less a $7,500 federal tax credit that brings the starting price to $58,500, with applicable state incentives bringing extra savings. That adds up to a $5,000 price cut compared to the previous discontinued model.

The current base-level Model S has also improved in terms of performance. While the 2015 version could hit 60 miles per hour in in 5.9 seconds, the new S 60 hits the mark in just 5.5 seconds—thanks to greater torque and horsepower. Range edges up as well, from 208 miles to 210 miles.

The reintroduction of the 60-kWh Model S brings the total number of available Model S battery sizes to four—even though Tesla will actually only build and install two packs: a 75-kWh pack used in the S 60, S 70 and S 75, and a 90 kWh pack for the S 90.

The smaller packs will all include the same number of cells and 75 kilowatt-hours’ worth of potential (although not fully available) energy storage capacity. That means owners can opt to pay an additional $9,000 at any point for a software update that unlocks the extra range. The somewhat counter-intuitive strategy is a challenge to the notion that reducing the production cost of the battery pack is the critical challenge to bringing down the price tag of an EV.

Tesla is effectively giving away 15 kilowatt-hours of battery for every S 60 it sells. In other words, the S 60, S 70 and S 75 packs will all carry the same production cost. Theoretically, Tesla will achieve a different profit margin depending on how much range buyers are willing to unlock—either at purchase or at a later date.

So far, purchasers of the Model S have apparently preferred larger battery packs. In 2014, more than 90 percent of buyers opted for the bigger-battery longer range Model S available at that time. Tesla had initially also offered a 40-kWh option at a starting price of less than $60,000, but the company said it was cancelled due to lack of interest. Fewer than 1,000 units were produced.

The re-introduction of the Model S 60 calls into question a prevailing sentiment that more range is always better—and could stir debate about the optimum trade-off between cost and the amount of range needed for common real-world driving.

Tesla appears confident that buyers will eventually choose to purchase an upgrade, either because current or subsequent owners later decide that they need the extra range (or to make up for any loss of driving range that comes with time and use).

All 2017 Model S trim levels will receive updated styling, most notably a new front fascia that removes the faux grille added by most electric carmakers to create a sense of familiarity. At this point, there isn’t much that’s familiar about Tesla’s approach—from a purchase process that occurs without a traditional car dealership to bundling extra battery storage that can be unlocked with software.

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