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Tesla Is as Smart as It Gets


Tesla announced a free upgrade for Model S owners.

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Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is as smart as it gets.

This morning, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the company is adding a titanium underbody shield to Model S vehicles manufactured as of March 6. Tesla will also add the shield to existing cars free of charge upon owners' requests.

As is typical for Musk, he laid out a very strong case defending the Model S's safety record:

It is important to note that there have been no fire injuries (or serious, permanent injuries of any kind) in a Tesla at all. The odds of fire in a Model S, at roughly 1 in 8,000 vehicles, are five times lower than those of an average gasoline car and, when a fire does occur, the actual combustion potential is comparatively small.

So we have to ask: If the Model S is so safe, why does it need a new titanium shield? Why does it need to be shielded from road debris?

The company itself says "the underbody shields are not needed for a high level of safety."

Here is Tesla's rationale:

We believe these changes will also help prevent a fire resulting from an extremely high-speed impact that tears the wheels off the car, like the other Model S impact fire, which occurred last year in Mexico. This happened after the vehicle impacted a roundabout at 110 mph, shearing off 15 feet of concrete curbwall and tearing off the left front wheel, then smashing through an eight-foot-tall buttressed concrete wall on the other side of the road and tearing off the right front wheel, before crashing into a tree. The driver stepped out and walked away with no permanent injuries, and a fire, again limited to the front section of the vehicle, started several minutes later. The underbody shields will help prevent a fire even in such a scenario.

So yes, if you are a maniac driving a Model S at 110 mph through a roundabout, you will be even safer than before.

I'm not going to pretend to know what Elon Musk is thinking, but this announcement feels like pure marketing for Tesla. It includes plenty of statistics supporting the Model S's safety credentials, along with a reminder of the media sensationalism that surrounds Tesla fires.

It adds up to a powerful message: The best car on Earth will only get better, and we'll always go out of our way to take care of you with no fuss. It makes a very high-tech company feel personal.

The announcement shows that Tesla acts more like a technology company like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) or Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) than a traditional car maker like Ford (NYSE:F) or General Motors (NYSE:GM).

Now, a Tesla detractor could say that the titanium plate is a stealth fix of a safety issue, but to the Tesla buyer, who in all likelihood is a technology enthusiast, it's an upgrade on the house -- just like Apple's free iOS and OS/X operating system upgrades.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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