Tesla Debuts Automated Driving System, All-Wheel-Drive Model S

Oct 10, 2014 10:00 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

Tesla Motors took its first step toward automated driving this week, unveiling features that will let its electric sedan park itself and sense dangerous situations during an event in California.

The company also confirmed it will introduce an all-wheel drive option of the Model S sedan, capable of going from zero to 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds, while not compromising the vehicle's efficiency.

The vehicle is like owning a "personal roller coaster," Tesla CEO Elon Musk joked after making the announcement at the event in Hawthorne, California.

Tesla's announcement had been highly anticipated since Musk tweeted to the world last week that it was "about time to unveil the D and something else."

Musk said onstage on Thursday that the "D" stands for "dual motor," meaning Tesla's all-wheel drive vehicle will have a motor at either end of the chassis to increase control.

The dual motor will be a $4,000 option on the base and mid-range Model S, which start at $71,000. The base price for the P85 with all-wheel drive, the P85D, is $120,000.

The cars went on sale immediately on Tesla's website.

Deliveries for the P85D will begin in December, while the other versions begin delivery in February.

The company CEO said that the Model S cars are rolling off the line today already have the hardware for "autopilot." Features include a long-range radar, image recognition that allows the vehicle to "see" pedestrians, stop signs, and other objects, and a 360-degree ultrasonic sonar.

"I think Elon Musk is a game changer" said Tesla owner Nikki Lennertz during the event to USA Today.

The vehicle is also capable of parking itself in a garage, turn on the air conditioning in advance of a trip and recognizes obstacles on the road. Musk cautioned that by "autopilot" he doesn't mean autonomous driving, meaning a driver can't fall asleep at the wheel.

Tesla is hoping the features will be enough to please consumers while they wait for the launch of its third vehicle, the Model X, next year, one industry analyst said, according to Reuters.

"Until the Model X arrives, a vehicle that will substantially amplify Tesla's appeal and volume potential, these upgrades should keep the Model S at the forefront of advanced personal transportation," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

Automakers all over the globe are rushing to create features like brakes that apply automatically when they sense an impending collision or slow down because a vehicle ahead on the highway has warned that traffic has stopped. Most companies believe the transition will be "evolutionary."

Companies like Google are already working on technology for a completely driverless vehicle. GM announced last month that its Cadillac brand will debut a vehicle in 2016 that communicates with other vehicles and will also introduce semi-automated hands-free driving technology.

More than 1,000 Tesla fans attended the California event on Thursday, which included free alcohol and test rides on an airport tarmac.

The company sold 13,850 cars in the U.S. this year through September, which is down 3 percent from a year ago, according to Autodata Corp.

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