Why Tesla's 'Plaid' powertrain is a desperate attempt towards Porsche
But still, the 'plaid' powertrain is their 'joker'
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. This does not represent the opinions of DriveTribe.
Tesla recently introduced their new ‘Plaid’ powertrain. The Plaid powertrain was first introduced in Tesla’s surprise stint on Laguna Seca Speedway on September 12th. Since then, the new Plaid powertrain has been a hot potato. In this article, I will like to rant about why Tesla’s new Plaid powertrain was just a desperate attempt from Tesla to draw attention from the Porsche Taycan.
Firstly, what is the Plaid powertrain? Well, we do not know much about it yet. All we know is that the Plaid powertrain has 3 motors instead of 2 used on the Ludicrous platform. The Plaid powertrain will be applied to Model S, Model X, and the upcoming Roadster, but not on the Model 3 and the Model Y. So, it is pretty much for the top models of each lineup.
Image from Pocketnow
Numerical figures? Well, not yet. Tesla did not release any technical information about the new powertrain, nor when will it be released. Therefore, the whole Plaid powertrain is still a ‘prototype’, which can be canned any time if things go wrong in Tesla.
Image from Porsche
Then, why did Tesla reveal their Plaid powertrain so abruptly? They could have saved that spot for Frankfurt, or for more future motor shows after the prototype is officially confirmed for production. Well, the answer is obvious. Tesla did not want Porsche’s new 4 door EV, Taycan to take all the spotlight.
Tesla has had an excellent 2018. They were still the only manufacturer to produce focus solely on EVs and had impressive progress. By the end of 2018, Tesla’s Model 3 was the 5th most sold saloon in North America, only after the Camry, Corolla, Accord, and Civic. It seemed that Tesla was no longer a ‘random startup’ but a ‘real car company’.
Image from Audi
But things got a little complicated for Tesla at the end of the 2018 year. New EVs came rushing out, like the Audi E-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace, and more were planned to be released. However, thankfully, those SUVs were not a direct competitor to Tesla’s main cash cow, the Model S and the Model 3, although the Model X had to face a bit of competition.
Image from Yahoo Finance
However, the whole paradigm of the EV market changed as Porsche released their new 4 door EV, the Taycan. Now, why was the Taycan such a terrible archenemy for Tesla? There were 4 door EV saloons before, like the Hyundai Ioniq and some EVs from China. However, most of these EVs were uncomparable to Tesla in terms of quality and brand value. However, Porsche’s new Taycan is not only fast and sport-focused but also carries the name of one of the greatest sports car manufacturer in the world.
As everyone expected, the Taycan was a great hit. Tesla’s Model S sales decreased greatly through July and August, as the Taycan was planned to be released in September at Frankfurt. The Taycan further hyped it up by achieving a lap time of 7 minutes and 42 seconds on the Nurburgring, which is only about 3 seconds slower than the M5 Competition and 3 seconds faster than the E63S Estate. And when the Taycan was actually released, the people reacted positively, and it seemed like everyone forgot about Tesla and their Model S for a moment.
The reason behind Tesla challenging Porsche on the Nurburgring is apparent. Like other manufacturers they want to promote their cars and show people that their cars are not less to the others'. However, Tesla has no racing experience, and their Model 3 Performance’s lap time was 9 minutes. Even if the Model S could reduce a few seconds on straights, it would still have extra weight to handle. Therefore, it is pretty evident that the stock Model S P100D would never beat the Taycan at this pace.
Image from Electrek
Still, Tesla brought a modified Model S to the Nurburgring. The Nurburgring Model S had many differences from the standard Model S. It had a more aggressive bodywork, including larger grilles, fender flares, and a big rear spoiler. Although it is unsure whether the Nurburgring Model S is powered by a Plaid powertrain. But just remember that it shares the same P100D+ badge from the car that lapped Laguna Seca. Furthermore, the Nurburgring Model S is equipped with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supersport RS tires, which are the most track-focused road-legal tires Goodyear makes.
Nico Rosberg will be lapping the Nurburgring with the modified Tesla. Image from Whichcar
So, Elon Musk jumped the gun here instead of telling us about the Plaid powertrain, went straight onto lap time challenges. This already explains how desperate the company was trying to draw consumers’ attention from the Taycan. For now, it seems quite successful as numerous journalists are writing about Tesla and their Nurburgring challenge and there are even rumours that the Tesla lapped a 7 minute and 23-second record out there. But now I will prove to you why it is all useless.
Image from Unsplash
Firstly, that 7:23 lap time was hand-timed. Yes you read me right, a guy stood near the track and simply measured the car’s lap time with a stopwatch, and Tesla has not even confirmed it yet. It is instead predicted that Tesla will be doing a run on Wednesday or Saturday this week. Furthermore, although there is no official committee to actually measure Nurburgring lap times, Tesla’s method of measuring the lap time with a stopwatch is just not enough. There is a lot of controversy on how manufacturers try to ‘cheat’ on the Nurburgring. However, at least they do not ask a random person to go out and measure the time with a stopwatch.
Image from Porsche Newsroom
Secondly, even if the record is actual, it will not be accepted by the mass public as a ‘Production, street-legal vehicle’ lap time. Yes, the Taycan was also a pre-production car. However, a Porsche spokesman confirmed that the car was stock and ran on production 21-inch summer tires. Which means that if you were buying a Taycan, you could get it the way they drove it in the Nurburgring except for the roll cage which was added for safety. Most of all, the car is in road-legal form.
Image from Motor1.com
Some get bogged down with the fact that the Taycan was not a production vehicle. But let me tell you, even the fastest production car at the Nurburgring, the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, did the Nurburgring run before production, and quite a lot of cars actually do it that way. However, the important fact is that customers can get their cars like the manufacturers used in the Nurburgring. Which in the case of Tesla is quite unclear.
Goodyear's Eagle F1 Supersport lineup. Image from Goodyear Newsroom
Tesla’s Nurburgring Model S is not even close to terms of ‘Production, street-legal vehicle’ compared to Porsche. Firstly, the tires itself are not even offered by Tesla. Those Goodyears are one of the most track-focused tires out in the market, and will definitely have an advantage on lap times. However, Tesla does not offer Goodyear Eagle F1 Supersport RS tires to their customers, while the P-Zero that Porsche used is available.
Image from Teslarati
Furthermore, the car itself will not be road legal for at least 1 year until Tesla actually reveals the Plaid powertrain powered Model S. Even if the Plaid Model S is revealed, it is still questionable whether they will offer the customer cars as they did it in the Nurburgring. Also, there is always the chance of the whole project being canned, as it is still a ‘prototype’ in terms of development. As a reference, the Taycan did the Nurburgring run two days before its release, which meant that it was obvious that the Taycan was not going to be canned.
So all of these ‘facts’ sum up into one thing. Tesla was desperate to get their customers back from Porsche. I am not saying that Model Ss are a terrible car. But we have to admit that the Taycan is better than the current Model S in some aspects. For Tesla, it would have definitely been frustrating to lose all the market attention they have been receiving, and that is why they challenged Porsche on the Nurburgring to be on the spotlight once again.
Image from Motor1.com
However, it would have been understandable if Musk sent a bone stock P100D to the Nurburgring. Most will understand that the brand new Taycan would be faster when compared as the Model S itself is a 7-year-old car. However, Musk instead brought their new prototype powertrain onto the battlefield, which implies that they will not be losing to Porsche, no matter what the methods are. By that action, Musk and Tesla themselves are proving that they lack the confidence to battle the Taycan stock to stock. Even if the Taycan might have been different from the factory version(which is not) Tesla should have had the guts to send their factory vehicle to the Green Hell if they were really trying to compete fairly.
Image from Road and Track
With the Nurburgring Model S, Tesla only got more to lose. Even if they are faster, they will be criticized as ‘cheaters’. If they are slower than they will be branded as ‘incompetent’. Tesla had dug their own grave bringing their prototype to the Nurburgring. Porsche, on the other hand, has nothing to lose. They did their run fairly with a stock car, and even if the Tesla is faster, they can always bring an updated model with more motors. (Remember the fact that the Plaid powertrain has an extra motor.)
Image from Carmudi PH
Furthermore, their new prototype aura is already starting to fade. Laguna Seca’s officials claimed that Tesla’s run in Laguna Seca will not be an official record. A spokesman of Weathertech Raceway told CNBC, “We were not officiating while the Tesla was testing on the track. Official records only happen during sanctioned events where a sanctioning body is officiating.” This already shows how ‘unprepared’ Tesla was with the record run. If they really wanted to show the world their Plaid’s ability, they would have checked about the track rules and schedules beforehand. But all we see is a short and desperate track run, just for the headlines.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Some tend to explain the current situation as a Goliath versus a David battle. However, Porsche is not the Goliath here, at least on the EV battle. The Taycan is Porsche's first EV, and Tesla started as an EV company since 2003. Now, Tesla the big kid on the block is even bringing their new prototype powertrain. Well, we cannot underestimate Porsche's history with racing, but racing is never easy when you have the slower car.
Image from Casinos by M&M
At the end of the day...
So, Tesla and Elon Musk. Here is my advice if you are reading this article. Put that prototype back in your cupboard for this Nurburgring lap time attempt. The Plaid powertrain seems like a viable future option, but in the status quo, it is just a prototype powertrain that does not even have the guarantee of production. To convince the market, what you need to do is to show them that you are confident enough to bring a stock P100D to the track and competitive enough to be faster or similar to the Taycan’s record. Remember, you can win a round with a Joker. However, you should remember that you cannot win the whole game with just a single Joker.
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