"What do you mean there's a new one? I just bought one!"
Traditional automakers tend to have long release roll-outs: concept show car, production show car, online configurator, production, shipment to dealerships, and then sales to customers. Tesla, as it should be abundantly clear, is not a traditional automaker, and while that's awesome in many ways, its led to some headaches for buyers. Specifically, it's the same headache we've seen for years with consumer technology: as soon as you buy a new thing, a better version of it is announced and on sale.
With old-school car makers this wasn't a problem. Refreshes were teased far in advance, revealed months — if not over a year — out, and usually along a predictable auto show schedule.
Tesla has thus far refused to comply with traditional automaker paradigm.
Tesla has thus far refused to comply with that paradigm, just as they've refused to play along with so many other traditions of traditional automakers. Tesla's reveals have been on their own terms. In fact, Tesla invited press and enthusiasts to their Fremont Factory to reveal the Tesla Model 3, and then they took everybody there for a ride in the new car — imagine Chevy or Audi or Toyota doing something like that.
That mentality also extends to how Tesla updates their vehicles. The dual-motor Model S P85D and Autopilot hardware were announced in a huge event reminiscent of something Apple would put on at the Hawthorne Airport. But Ludicrous Speed and the 90kWh battery option were announced via a simple blog post on Tesla's website.
And so when Tesla performed its first full refresh of the Model S earlier in April, some recent Model S buyers were understandably upset by the changes. In a world where we're used to having a long lead time for new car models — the updated 2017 Ford Fusion was announced in January and isn't expected to go on sale until late 2016, for example — such an update catches unsuspecting buyers off guard.
That surprise was both good and bad for those that had recently received a new Model S or had an order already in the system (or were about to buy). Those that had a Model S still sporting that "new car smell" were without warning suddenly looking at a dated front fascia — and any that preferred the old shiny black nose cap look were surprised to find out the car they were receiving would look different than the car they had ordered. Complicating matters is the seriously improved range of the updated Model S 90D — practically hitting 300 miles on a charge.
To casual followers of technology, this is an all too familiar problem: you just got a new phone and suddenly there's a newer version that's faster and better and makes your phone look old. And it's true, the new phone is better. But your phone is no worse than it was the day before the new one was announced — it still does all the same things it did then, the new one just does more.
Tesla operates publicly more like a technology company than an automaker. It's easy to draw the parallels with Apple here.
Those that obsess about technology, however, don't run into such issues as frequently. We know when the big reveals are coming, even if we're not necessarily will be announced. We follow the rumors, we know when a device is stale and just plain due for an update. I'm doing that right now as I wait to replace my aging Apple MacBook Pro.
Gearheads do the same thing — in fact, anybody actively following Tesla news at the time would have seen the leaks and rumors of an updated front fascia, improved interior, and erroneous reports of a pending 100kWh battery (though the improved range did somehow arrive). If we were on the fence about buying a Model S at that point, the news would have swayed us in one direction or another rather quickly — order now for a chance at keeping the old front end, or hold off and wait to see what Tesla has in store.
Befitting its headquartering in Silicon Valley's Palo Alto, Tesla operates publicly more like a technology company than an automaker. It's easy to draw the parallels with Apple here: flashy presentations separate on the calendar from any other industry event with the chance to try out the product right then and there, and spec bump refreshes that are available almost immediately. The tech company thinking extends to their repair process — if it's not a simple fix, Tesla repair technicians are likely to just swap the defunct component from the car, even if it's the freaking motor.
The old adage of "It's out of date as soon as you open the box" used to only apply to consumer technology like computers and phones. But today we're starting to see it get applied to things as expensive and complex as automobiles. And it's true, but outdated doesn't mean useless or worthless. A 2015 Model S is just as good as it was before the revised 2016 Model S, even if the new one is better.