The Model S is finally coming back.
Tesla hasn’t delivered one of the luxury sedans since the start of the year thanks to a computer chip shortage and a redesign of the car, once the company’s only offering. Since then, CEO Elon Musk has been promising the return of the Model S was around the corner, saying as recently as April that deliveries would resume in May.
Finally, in a tweet early Thursday, Musk announced a Model S “delivery event” to be held June 3 at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory.
Tesla had paused deliveries on the Model S, as well as the Model X SUV after the company ran through the available inventory of 2,000 of those vehicles in January. It didn’t build any more of those models in the first quarter of 2021 due to the shortage of computer chips that has dogged all automakers.
Instead Tesla (TSLA) concentrated on building as many of its lower priced Model 3 sedans and Model Y SUVs as possible.
Upgraded Model S and X
Even without the chip shortage, some degree of delay likely would have happened anyway as Tesla had worked on updated versions of the Model S and X. Still, those production upgrades typically take weeks, not months -— which suggests the prolonged delivery delay was driven more by the chip shortage than the changeover.
Musk’s tweet said the June 3 event will also feature the debut of a “Plaid” version of the Model S, a name taken from the Mel Brooks “Star Wars” parody “Spaceballs.”
“Fastest production car ever,” Musk tweeted about the updated Model S. “0 to 60 mph in under 2 seconds.”
The new Model S is also notable for its rectangular steering wheel, which looks like something out of an airplane cockpit or race car rather than a mass market vehicle.
No matter the eye-popping acceleration or other new design quirks, however, the long delay in bringing the Model S back to consumers is proof that the former Tesla mainstay has become something of an afterthought for the company, said Dan Ives, tech analyst for Wedbush Securities.
“If it has a renaissance of success, great,” Ives said. “But the story for Tesla is much more about the Model 3, Model Y and Cybertruck.” The lower-priced Model 3 sedan and Model Y SUV made up nearly 90% of the company’s sales last year. The Cybertruck, due to start deliveries late this year, is the company’s first entry into the popular pickup truck segment.
It’s still important that Tesla continue to offer the Model S and Model X, Ives said. Given that their prices can easily top $100,000, the high-end vehicles can generate far bigger profit margins than the Model 3 or Model Y.
That’s important because there are still questions about whether Tesla is truly able to make a profit on sales of its cars. To date, the company’s financial success has relied heavily on sales of regulatory credits that allow other automakers to meet fuel economy standards, as well as it’s big bet on bitcoin.
“Model S is a massive margin accelerant,” Ives said.
Tesla is still by far the largest maker of EVs. But established automakers such as Ford (F), General Motors (GM) and Volkswagen (VLKAF) are getting more attention for their new EVs offerings than Tesla is getting for its now well-established vehicles. This week’s unveiling of the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck attracted a great deal of press coverage — and a test drive by President Joe Biden.
So now is clearly a good time for Tesla to tout an unveiling of its own — even if it is long overdue from earlier promises.