Tesla Version 4???

Tesla doesn’t follow normal model year cycles, and instead continuously improves their cars on a weekly basis.  Most of these improvements are “under the hood” (structural part changes resulting in reduced weight, reduced complexity, decreased noise, improved reliability, lower cost, etc.,), while others are noticeable but relatively minor (e.g. new door switch, new sunvisor, etc.,). These improvements are rolled out without much fanfare.  Still, there are periodic major updates that require a pause in production for factory retooling, and justify either a press release or a live event.  To date, there have been 3 such major updates since the launch of the Model S which Tesla (or at least Elon Musk on the most recent earnings conference call) informally designates as “Versions”:

  • Version 1: Original Model S
  • Version 2: Model S with Dual Motor AWD and Autopilot Hardware 1
  • Version 3: Model X and Refreshed Fascia Model S
  • Version 4: Model S, Model X, and Model 3 with Autopilot Hardware 2

While the differences between these Versions are clear to Tesla enthusiasts, it may not be clear to prospective buyers especially in the context of inventory cars and the technological capabilities of the cars (especially with regard to Autopilot functionality).  In fact, on the Tesla new and used inventory pages Tesla doesn’t list Versions or any other form of designation in the descriptions.  Instead, prospective buyers have to infer this based on the production year, picture, and presence or absence of Original Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, or Full Self Driving Capability features (which isn’t 100% reliable as these are still software locked on some cars).  This is a unique problem or challenge for Tesla because the technological improvements between each Version are immense but not visually apparent. So how would Tesla best name and differentiate the Tesla Versions?

Possible Naming Schemes for the Current Tesla Model S

  • 2017 Tesla Model S with Refreshed Fascia and Autopilot Hardware 2 (this is how most Tesla enthusiasts would describe the car)
  • Tesla Model S Version 4 (this is how Tesla informally designates the car)
  • Tesla Model S 4th Generation
  • Tesla Model S 4
  • Tesla Model S 4.0
  • Tesla Model S Late-2016
  • Tesla Model S Buffalo
  • Tesla Model S Mark IV

Option 1: Ordinal Generations (1st Generation, 2nd Generation, etc.,)

This naming scheme isn’t much different than the Versions naming scheme.  But it also doesn’t quite fit with automotive nomenclature because the exterior sheet metal of a 1st Generation and 4th Generation Tesla Model S aren’t really different. More accurately, all Tesla Model S are still 1st Generation but the different Versions would be considered Minor Model Changes (MMC’s).

Option 2: Whole Number or Dot Revisions (1, 2, 3, 4, or 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0)

This naming scheme is fairly common in the tech world (e.g. iPhone 7, Windows 10, Android 7.1, Surface 4, PS4 Firmware 4.55, etc.,) and is similar to the Versions naming scheme but without the actual word “Version”. Tesla has already employed this naming scheme for the Roadster (1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0) and for the Model S and X firmware updates (6.0, 6.1, 7.0, 7.1, 8.0, and 8.1).  But in the software world, there is a bit of a negative connotation for the lower numbers, especially “1.0”.  Everyone knows it’s best to wait for the 2.0.  Even within a major revision, many people tend to wait for the first minor revision after the major revision (e.g. X.01 or X.1).  The public has come to expect annual releases. The numbers have gotten quite high in recent years: iOS is up to 11, MacOS is up to 10.13, Parallels is up to 12.  A Tesla Model S 1.0, 2.0, or even 3.0 sounds ancient.

Option 3: Calendar (Mid-2012, Late-2014, Mid-2015, Late-2016)

This is how Apple designates their MacBooks and iMacs.  The problem is that people just think about how dated the product is and how “due” it is for an update.  Tesla would not want people holding off ordering a car because it feels like an update is imminent. A Model S Late-2016 sounds like it should be discounted now that we’re in calendar year 2017.   Another problem with this designation is that it lumps all cars produced during a cycle even if they are built in different years.  A Model S built in September 2016 would be still be considered a “Mid-2015”, likely hurting its resale value.

Option 4: Unique Names (Hawthorne, Fremont, Sparks, Buffalo)

This is how Apple names its MacOS revisions (e.g. Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capital, Sierra, and High Sierra for MacOS) but this would seem odd and confusing if applied to Tesla.

Option 5: Mark with Roman Numerals (Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, Mark IV)

This is similar to Versions, Ordinal Generations, and Whole Numbers but for some reason “Mark” with Roman numerals seem a bit more classy and elegant, a refinement of an already excellent product rather than planned obsolescence.  Perhaps it is because of how sparingly this type of naming scheme is currently used. This is how Canon names the updates to their flagship, multi-thousand dollar SLR cameras.  This is probably a good option for Tesla as well.  It preserves the premium branding of the product without making older versions seem outdated. E.g. A Tesla Model S Mark II just sounds better than a Tesla Model S 2nd Generation, Tesla Model S 2.0, or Tesla Model S Late-2014.  The naming also doesn’t create an expectation of another update the following year.  But most importantly, an announcement of a Tesla Model S Mark V would not devalue the Tesla Model S Mark IV as much as the other naming schemes, especially to prospective buyers who are less knowledgable about Tesla.