Written by by Sarah Klein, CNN
Technology has come a long way, since the first Model S was on a rough California interstate in 2012. In those early years, prototypes being tested by Tesla had a very different look. They were unusual, and far from conventional.
The name was beautiful, with the promise of the new world of mobility. And still, many people did not understand or appreciate the nuances of what they had, according to founder and CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk
“There was a time when people had no idea what any of this meant,” Musk recalled in an early 2016 Reddit AMA. “The illustrations of the cars were plain but black … It was not immediately clear what a paradigm shift was about or why consumers needed a new solution.”
Tesla’s first prototype was smaller, and lighter, with cylindrical wheels. Two years in, this iteration had evolved into a more conventional design — but the specs are striking.
That first Model S
One of the first examples of Tesla Roadster, photographed in spring 2013. Credit: David Shankbone/Tesla
After two years of testing and refinement, the world got to see the production Model S: unmistakably luxurious, and with a new eye-catching exterior design. Initially priced at $100,000, but rising rapidly for a few years afterwards, the Model S was the first Tesla with its now widely familiar “P” license plate.
It was a regular car, but with a distinctive style. One of Tesla’s first prototypes featured shallow trunks to allow open space for luggage. Even the interior was quirky, with thick, lumbar support seatback cushions and roll-over side panels that could be folded flat.
Tesla is one of few companies to have its own model in its name. Credit: James Martin/CNET
This was not the only noteworthy feature, however. Early Model S’s included a high-power rechargeable electric motor, which also allowed the cars to achieve zero-emissions status on a single charge.
This was important, as the concept was rapidly evolving. And Musk was also pushing for more. The Model S was developed alongside the first smartphone, and by 2013, the majority of Tesla’s early prototypes contained the technology to give the driver hands-free, hands-free driving. This was reflected in the first prototype prototype the firm produced, which had a touchscreen system for the interaction.
Musk, one of the world’s most anticipated figures, sold himself to investors, huge wads of money, on the promise of his autonomous autopilot system
But then something happened. Musk, one of the world’s most anticipated figures, sold himself to investors, huge wads of money, on the promise of his autonomous autopilot system — and the Teslas first vehicle the system would be incorporated into was the second iteration of the Model S.
“Pushed hard, the second car was much better than the first car, and people realized, ‘This is magic’,” Musk recounted to Vanity Fair. “The fact that the people on the road are driving nice, quiet, highly autonomous cars that move up and down highways, with no drivers in the car, in the US, and around the world, is a big part of why we are so important.”
And it seems that Musk’s attention paid off. A subsequent development, called Autopilot, was widely believed to be responsible for the dramatic decline in road fatalities around the world in 2016.
In the first half of this year, Tesla boasted a driverless-only highway operation every day, and demonstrated it could travel 5,000 miles, or one hour, between charges without drivers needing to be alerted.