Tesla’s ‘Disappointing’ Announcement Shows Just How High the Tech Bar Has Risen

After days of hype, the reaction to Elon Musk’s unveiling of the “D” Model S was essentially a collective yawn.
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After days of hype, the reaction to Elon Musk’s unveiling of the “D” Model S was essentially a collective yawn.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk made a major announcement on Thursday night: A dual engine electric car that can go from 0 to 60 mph in just over three seconds and can even park itself.

"It's like having your own personal roller coaster,” Musk said during the unveiling.

But after days of hype and skyrocketing expectations the reaction to his unveiling of the “D” Model S was essentially a collective yawn.

An October 1 tease from Musk on his Twitter account declared, “About to unveil the D and something else.”

In hindsight, you can see the Model S vehicle embedded in the image attached to Musk’s Twitter post. But this is Elon Musk we’re talking about — the man whose SpaceX company is pioneering the commercial space flight industry and who makes a habit of issues proclamations about how technology, specifically from his company, is going to change the world.

It’s not that people aren’t happy about the dual engine Model S electric car: It’s the world’s first all-wheel-drive electric car, travels 275 miles on a single charge and takes some measurable steps toward the eventuality we all see coming: a self-driving personal vehicle.

But in today’s world of technological expectations, a major step forward doesn’t cut it. Simply because some industry watchers speculated that Musk might be unveiling a self-driving vehicle, the bar was raised to such a level that anything less than a self-driving electric car would be considered a disappointment.

Take a look at how some in the media responded to Musk’s big announcement. Forbes says, “Tesla Unveil Disappoints,” and focused on how the company’s stock dropped in trading Friday morning. The Washington Post described the announcement as “punting” on the self-driving car. And even USA Today, in an otherwise positive review, led with what Musk didn’t unveil, namely a self-driving car.

The mixed reactions illustrate just how much we’ve come to expect from innovators like Tesla, Google and Apple. The first time you shock the tech world suddenly you’re everyone’s dream company. But with each successive victory, even the biggest innovators begin experiencing diminishing marginal returns.

The irony in all of this is that the “D” does feature an “auto pilot” function that enables many of the features people associate with an actual self-driving vehicle. For example, it can read speed signs on the road and adjust the car’s speed accordingly. One of the coolest features is how it adjusts the car’s speed to stay in line with changing road signs.

It can also read the lines on the road, even at night, and ensure that the vehicle stays in the correct lane. And finally, when it detects another vehicle on the road has come to a stop in front of it, the autopilot on the “D” brings the car to a gentle, rolling stop.

Check out this demonstration video to see the autopilot on display (about 40 seconds into the video):

The mixed reaction to Musk’s announcement brings to mind the viral interview with comedian Louis C.K. in which he laments how technology has made us spoiled. “How quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago,” C.K. joked about an airline passenger complaining when his flight’s Wi-Fi service temporarily went down.

But you can’t entirely blame technology enthusiasts for thinking that Musk was ready to blow our collective minds with grandiose unveiling. After all, Musk is the same guy whose company is flying space missions for NASA and who said he thinks an electric railway system that can take a person from NYC to LA in 45 minutes is just around the corner.

Oh, and let’s not forget that in an interview with CNN just days before the “D’s” announcement, Musk himself said that a 90 percent autonomous car was coming in 2015:

“Tesla’s a Silicon Valley company,” Musk said in the interview. “I mean, if we’re not the leader, then shame on us.”

For those who still think a dual engine, all-wheel-drive electric car is a pretty big deal, the first “D” models will be available to the public starting in December.

Top photo courtesy of Tesla Motors

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