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Can Supercharger Stations Restore Faith In Tesla? (VIDEO)

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The 2012 Tesla Model S has long been heralded as ushering in the new era of an electric car society, but those predictions always seemed like pie-in-the-sky hyperbole. Until today.

Tesla has unveiled an innovative new charging infrastructure that is already up and running in six California locations, each charging at an impressive 100 kW – enough to fully charge a Tesla Model S with nearly 300 miles of range in less than thirty minutes. Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduced the new Supercharger stations at a press event on Monday, in this video:

The stations have been installed in Folsom, Gilroy, Harris Ranch, Tejon Ranch and Barstow. Tesla decided to position them around the large cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas to allow drivers to charge once they leave the metro areas. In fact, Motor Trend recently proved that the Tesla Model S can already complete the L.A. to Vegas trip without charging stops (video here), but we’re sure no one is going to complain about being able to use the air conditioning and not worry themselves to death about breaking down on the I-15.

The goal is reliable long-distance driving, and the single biggest thing that needed to improve to allow that to happen is improved infrastructure. Even the biggest of dreamers saw Tesla as a company in need of that, but not a company capable of providing that. The automaker, partnered with industry leader Solar City, plans to install six more by next year and spread nearly across the country by the end of 2013.

The technology in the Supercharger stations is quite remarkable. They are not powered by electricity plants that themselves produce pollution, but by nearby solar grids that collect power from the sun. The power is provided at no cost to the driver, bringing the dream of free and limitless vehicle power to reality. Pretty neat stuff.

Unfortunately for Tesla, the news doesn’t seem to have immediately eased their financial issues. A recent review of customer orders revealed more than 1,200 cancelations of Model S reservations (video here), which will need to be repaid. In addition, Tesla reported reduced revenue expectationsand Wall Street acted accordingly, sending the TSLA stock into a ten-percent fall.

Tesla faces an uphill climb to financial solvency, especially with growing political pressure in an election year and continued leniency from the Department of Energy that is likely to tighten in the future. Is the Supercharger infrastructure the answer to electric car concerns, or another big gamble that Tesla has committed to before it’s actually ready? Only time will tell.

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Tesla Motors – Official Site

Design Your Tesla Model S

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By Ryan ZumMallen

Tesla Model S Controversy: Who's Really At Fault?

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The conflict between the New York Times and Tesla Motors over a stranded Tesla Model Sis getting complicated.

The row started after reporter John M. Broderreviewed the cold weather, long distance driving capabilities of the Model S. In his article on the Times’ Automobiles section, Broder remarks that the vehicle went dead after only 185 miles, 80 miles less than its EPA estimated range of 265 miles per battery charge. Broder went on to blame the lithium-ion battery, which are reported to have problems holding charges in lower temperatures. Coming from a prominent publication such as the Times, this mostly negative review was a significant blow for Tesla, causing the company’s stock to dip. Tesla CEO Elon Musk reacted with a scathing series of rebuttal tweets, providing screenshots of contrasting data logs from the reviewed Model S’ computer, and calling Broder’s review completely “fake.”

So, who is actually wrong here?

According to both Tesla and Broder, Tesla provided specific instructions on how to drive the Model S for 200 miles between supercharging stations; namely, to keep the speedometer at 55 mph and minimize use of the battery-draining climate control. Broder states that he complied with Tesla’s requirements — setting the cruise control at 54 mph and turning down the heat despite the chilly temps. However, 29 miles from the Norwich, Connecticut charging station, he claims the Model S was “limping along at 45 mph” before it came to a complete halt five miles short of the station.

However, Musk argues that the car’s logs prove a different story. According to Musk and Tesla, the data indicates that Broder drove between 65 to 81 mph, never reaching the 45 mph snail’s pace he claimed. Also, the cabin was kept at a comfortable 72 degrees, even increased to 74 degrees at a later point in the trip. Musk also remarks that Broder did not fully charge the vehicle during any of his three charging station visits, even disconnecting the Model S when it showed an expected range of 32 miles, when Broder planned to drive 61 miles.

Today, the Atlantic Wire is questioning the validity of the logs provided by Musk and Tesla Motors. In a blog post published this morning, Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tried to reach Elon Musk for comment on these accusations, as well as a request to “open source the driving logs” and other data. Musk was unavailable at the time.

Wanting to be an alleviator of our gas guzzling ways, utilitarianism has been one of Tesla’s main goals. Wired contributor and EV1 engineer Chelsea Sexton remarks, “The day-to-day experience EVs offer is so much better than gas cars for 95% of driving. Long-distance road trips are among the last 5% of usage scenarios.”

Ironically, it was a little over a century ago that this circumstance was reversed. Steam and electric cars that appeared at the beginning of the automobile age outsold all petrol-powered vehicles, until combustion engines became more stable and gas became more abundant for long distance trips. Now, at its resurgence, the electric vehicle has to face a similar challenge as its early gas-fueled cousins.

Even if Broder’s review turns out to be false, Tesla Motors may have already shot itself in the foot. What perhaps is most intriguing about this fiasco was the amount of care required (not merely recommended) by Tesla in order to drive the Model S the 500 miles it initially logged. By just taking this into consideration, Broder correctly reports that Tesla billing the Model S as a “casual car” ready for a road trip is a bit of a stretch. If the typical road-tripping consumer needs as much detailed instruction as seen in both Tesla and Broder’s account, the extinction of the gas-powered car might be a little further off.

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By Jessica Matsumoto

Leases On 118 MPGe Honda Fit EV Available On West Coast This Friday

The electric Honda Fit EV will be available for lease in California and Oregon beginning this Friday, lining up the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt in its sights as Honda attempts to further their stake in the EV game.

“No other automaker on the planet is more deeply committed to produce and deliver more energy-efficient and sustainable transportation solutions than Honda,” said Steven Center, vice president of the American Honda Environmental Business Development Office, in a press release. “The 2013 Honda Fit EV is the latest example of this commitment.”

The Fit EV certainly has one thing going for it: In early June, the EPA handed it the highest fuel efficiency rating ever with a 118 MPGe (132/105) score.

That’s more than enough to best the Leaf (99 MPGe), Volt (98), Tesla Model S (89), Ford Focus Electric (105) and Mitsubishi MiEV (112).

But does that mean that customers will flock to the Fit EV? We’ve already seen a few zipping around the streets of Torrance, near Honda headquarters, and if the giant “EV” logo splashed across the side of the car doesn’t turn buyers away, the steep three-year lease price of $389 per month might. It adds up to a $36,625 MSRP – more than twice the cost of a base Fit ($15,325) and significantly more than a fully-equipped Fit Sport Navi ($19,690).

Honda is betting that customers are willing to shell out the extra money for a chance to be early adopters of the most fuel-efficient production car on the market; not to mention the most eco-friendly on their block. Plus, the Fit EV can fully recharge from a 240-volt outlet in just three hours and the Fit is well-known as one of the most versatile and practical cars available. The Fit EV will expand to six East Coast markets in early 2013.

As with all electric vehicles, the cost will level off as the technology improves and becomes cheaper to manufacture, and the important thing is that cars like the Fit EV are coming to market at all. Competition is certainly a good thing – now we’ll just have to see which EV the public responds to most.

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Does the Fit EV pique your electric interest? Let us know in the Comments below.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

The Seven Best Post-Turkey Cars This Thanksgiving

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Whether you plan on passing out in the passenger seat, or just want a comfortable ride after loading up on stuffing, these are the new cars you’ll want for the long ride home this Thanksgiving.

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Lexus LS460

Some automakers offer cars with a quiet, smooth ride. And then some hollow out their wheels with “air holes” to decrease road noise. When we drove the 2013 Lexus LS460 this Fall, it became clear we were riding in something ahead of its pillow-soft time. It’s no surprise that a Lexus makes this list, but with more noise prevention than ever before, the LS460 is an easy choice here.

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Buick LaCrosse

With the optional four-cylinder engine and eAssist hybrid, the 2013 Buick LaCrosse is one of the most quiet and smooth large sedans on the market today. Its triple door seals, acoustical laminated glass and giant 111.7-inch wheelbase combine to make the 2013 LaCrosse a floating sleep vessel – especially once the tryptophan takes hold.

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Tesla Model S

What you know: The electric motors in the 2013 Tesla Model S create almost zero interior noise. What you don’t know: The top-quality fit and finish in the 2013 Model S is the best ever for an EV. Combine a silent powertrain with air-spring suspension and you’ve got the perfect car for a nap on the way home.

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Ford Edge

Ford engineers designed a veritable obstacle course for noise to reach the passengers inside the 2013 Edge. Re-shaped mirrors and a new rear spoiler help the Edge cut through the air, while new sound-deadening foam in the fenders and roof pillars keep you drifting off to La-La Land without being interrupted by engine noise. Go the extra mile by opting for the 2.0L four-cylinder EcoBoost engine.

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Jeep Grand Cherokee

Thanksgiving is about family, and there’s nothing more familial than the Pentastar engine across the Chrysler lineup. In the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 3.6L V6 Pentastar turns an off-road performance specialist into a docile luxury sedan shaped like an SUV. Smooth delivery across the powerband will have you thinking about next Thanksgiving, not your newfound girth.

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Kia Sorento

Unlike you, the 2013 Kia Sorento is lighter today than it was yesterday. A new, lightweight unibody structure keeps the Sorento moving firmly and smoothly across the road from Nana’s house. Newly designed suspension is comfortable under cruising and the four-cylinder engine is quiet enough to let you fall under the spell of the iPod jack in peace.

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Lamborghini Aventador

Didn’t see this one coming, did you? In the Ultra-Hypercar Smooth Ride category, the Aventador stands alone as the one track star that can get you home without rattling your stuffed insides. The reason is cylinder deactivation, which shuts down six of the twelve cylinders when running under 84 mph. The new system saves fuel, which is all well and great, but it’ll also reduce the engine roar from Mufasa to Simba levels. Worst comes to worst, dial up all 700 horsepower and your long ride should pass in no time at all.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

Tesla Model S Sales Pass Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf

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The little car company that could, Tesla Motors Inc., is now the domestic leader in electric car sales. The Model S recently surpassed sales of the Chevrolet Volt, a vehicle that led regional sales of rechargeable cars in 2012. This news is an undeniable blow to General Motors, though representatives for the Detroit based automaker remain optimistic.

“Any success for a company in this space is helpful for all other makers of plug-in vehicles,” said Jim Cain, a General Motors spokesman. “The single most important thing we can do for plug-ins, to encourage sales, is to have them on the road.”

The sales ranking for the Model S coincides with Tesla saying it would report a first-quarter profit, the first in its ten-year history. When it releases first quarter results, Tesla expects 4,750 deliveries of the electric Models S in North America – compared to GM’s 4,421 sales of the Chevy Volt. The all-electric Nissan Leaf also expects smaller sales figures.

Despite its high base price ($69,900) and its exclusivity in North America, the Model S has been extraordinarily successful and is a critical darling. Always attempting to outdo itself, Tesla has pledged to sell over 20,000 vehicles this year.

GM sold about 30,000 of their respective rechargeable models worldwide last year, but has declined sharing its volume-targets for 2013.

At the North American International Auto Show in January, retired GM executive Bob Lutz spoke with a hologram of inventor Thomas Edison, who was the former employer and later adversary of Nikola Tesla. Edison was revered for generations while Tesla faded into obscurity, despite the fact that cities abandoned Edison’s dangerous direct current electricity system in favor of Tesla’s safer alternating current system.

Perhaps Tesla Motors success is history’s vindication for the brilliant, but ill-fated engineer, or perhaps Tesla Motors just created a better product. Either way, it’s clear to GM that Tesla Motors is more than a novelty – it’s serious competition.

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Visit theautoMedia.comTesla Research Centerfor quick access to reviews, pricing, photos, mpg and more. Make sure to followautoMedia.comonTwitterandFacebook.

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By Jessica Matsumoto

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV: Test Drive Review

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If we aren’t yet past the old narrative that all electric cars are cheap and tiny egg-shaped golf carts, one trip in the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV should put that to bed.

The new generation of the RAV4 EV is one of the best examples yet of the viability of an electric future. It combines pleasing design, build quality, driving excitement, fuel economy and – here’s the kicker – utility like no other EV has. During a ride and drive event at the Los Angeles Auto Show, we had a chance to hop behind the wheel.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV boasts a strong physique that doesn’t differentiate much from the standard, gas-burning RAV4, expect for a few details that make it appear leaner and cleaner to the eye. The RAV4 EV is sprinkled with LED running lights, tail and headlights that mix technology and luxury.

The green push button start brings the RAV4 EV to life with a soft tune and warm glow. Like most modern day electrics, it’s a breeze to drive at a level that is still somewhat surprising; it will take a while for the public to grow accustomed to silence on the road. Set off in Normal mode to maximize efficiency, or Sport mode to take advantage of all the instant torque under your right foot.

A lithium-ion battery system with 129 kW powers the AC induction motor, which boasts 154 horsepower and 218 lb.-ft of torque (273 in Sport mode). A 0.30 drag coefficient – downright amazing for an SUV – helps the RAV4 EV achieve an estimated 78/74 eMPG with a 103-mile electric range. But how does it drive? With a welcoming battery whine, off you go.

In motion, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV moves quickly and directly. Reporters talk about the way that electric cars “dart” and “zip” all the time, but you don’t much expect that from a five-seater SUV.

And yet, the steering is direct and light – the RAV4 EV reacts instantly to your commands and feels confident on its feet. There is none of the uneasiness of past electrics, and none of the clumsiness of a typical SUV. It feels light – not the steering, the actual car. In fact, the RAV4 EV tips the scales at 4,032 lbs., about 100 lbs. lighter than the standard RAV4, which is astounding considering the li-ion batteries alone weigh 845.5 lbs.

Engineers skewed the system by using the heavy batteries to give the RAV4 EV a low center of gravity, which accounts for its impressive balance. They didn’t save weight everywhere, though – the hood is pretty heavy, bolstered to protect the batteries in case of low speed collisions.

With a new Sport mode and clever weight distribution, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV not only deals with the reality of driving an electric car, it uses it to its advantage. If you want more style and range, spring for the Tesla Model S. If you want the most efficiency, check out the Honda Fit EV.

But if you need utility and still like to have fun, the RAV4 EV is an electric that isn’t just good for its owner – it’s good for the future of the EV industry.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Coming to U.S. Soon

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Mitsubishi Motor Company recently disclosed details about the highly anticipated 2014 Outlander plug-in hybrid, scheduled to be released in Japan on January 24th. According to Mitsubishi, the Outlander PHEV is its “most important vehicle sold in decades.” This is a particularly bold claim coming from the car company who just last year released the i-MiEV (review here), a well-received all-electric vehicle.

The base price is ¥3,324,000 and its highest‐level factory model goes for about ¥4,297,000, approximately $38,972 to $50,380 U.S. at the current exchange rate. In Japan, the crossover qualifies for the “eco‐car” government incentives, which slashes about $5,000 off its cost, making the Outlander’s starting price as low as $33,471.

While the Outlander PHEV is an interesting, eco crossover entry, it should not be expecting an open season in the U.S. market. Probable competitors include the current Toyota Rav4 EV (review here) and the soon to be released Tesla Model X. However, these cars are both electric vehicles, making them only suitable for short trips. Tesla is attempting to overcome these shortcomings, claiming that its nationwide “supercharger network” will be finished sometime in late 2014. Considering Tesla’s reputation for sticker shock, the Model X is unlikely to be vying for Mitsubishi’s more modest market.

The Outlander PHEV is powered by Mitsubishi’s Plug-in Hybrid EV System, a multi-mode drivetrain, which combines two independent electric motors, a 12kWH lithium–ion battery pack, and a 2.0L four-cylinder MIVEC gas-powered engine. The gas engine is rated at 117 hp and 137 lb.-ft of torque. This “motor à trois” gives the Outlander PHEV an estimated 37 mile range on electric only, hybrid mpg of 44, and a combined fuel efficiency of 175 mpg.

Mitsubishi added that quick-charging will be an available option. This feature allows the Outlander PHEV to charge the battery up to 80 percent in 30 minutes, undoubtedly a useful element when charging the crossover away from home. Also available is a plug‐in system that allows the vehicle to power other sources at 100 volts AC and up to 1,500 watts.

The Outlander PHEV will come in five trim levels. Four “G levels,” which include the barebones G, the G Safety Package featuring the “e-Assist” advanced safety technology system, the G Navi Package with an on-board navigation system, and the G Premium Package, which boasts a Rockford Fosgate Premium Sound System and leather-upholstered seats. The fifth trim level is the prestigious E, which is made-to‐order to the customer’s specifications.

Design wise, the 2014 Outlander was given a moderate facelift. The headlights have been narrowed and swept back further. The front has been squared off, giving the crossover a more robust, yet streamlined appearance. It is unknown whether or not this Japanese market design (as well as its price tag) will carry over to its later international release.

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By Jessica Matsumoto

Tesla Triples Supercharger Network, Eyeing Entire Country

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In response to an EV infrastructure that has basically failed to improve at all in the past five years, Tesla Motors will immediately triple the network of their Supercharger stations and could have hundreds of stations running by the end of 2013.

By the end of June, Tesla expects to have new locations in California, plus the Pacific Northwest, Texas, Illinois and Colorado and four locations on the East Coast for the first time. In six months they expect range to increase into Canada, plus Arizona, South Carolina and Georgia. By then, Tesla says, it will be possible to drive a Tesla Model S from New York to Los Angeles. The big news here is not the triumph for Tesla, but rather the utter embarrassment for every other automaker in the world.

Infrastructure and driving range have always been two of the largest obstacles in convincing the public to buy Electric Vehicles. They are two of the chief reasons, in fact, that automakers like the Big Three dragged their feet and refused to build EVs for many years. People have often looked at Tesla sideways, because no matter how good their cars are, it means nothing without infrastructure.

But where the auto industry saw disaster, Tesla saw opportunity. They are now the leaders in the largest EV infrastructure project ever, and will reap all of the benefits. The Tesla Supercharger systems work only for Tesla vehicles, meaning that owners of the Chevrolet Volt or Nissan Leaf or any other EV that isn’t the Tesla Model S can’t use them. Essentially, Tesla figured out how to open the country up to their customers while leaving the door shut on the competition.

This will hurt the auto industry much more than it helps Tesla, and it’s no one’s fault but their own. The prospect of building a nationwide EV infrastructure seems incredibly daunting – and true, we have to wait and see whether it actually all works out – but someone saw fit to make it possible. If GM or Honda or a Toyota-Ford partnership to build similar charging stations had begun five years ago, infrastructure and driving range wouldn’t even be an issue by now. Instead, they didn’t take initiative and are still reluctant to build electric cars. That’s just fine by Tesla.

Today’s announcement forces us to consider whether automakers that have griped about lack of infrastructure and technology costs couldn’t build electric cars, or simply wouldn’t.

It would appear to be the latter, and they’re paying for it now.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

Tesla Repays $465 Million Government Loan Ahead of Schedule

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In the biggest win for the Obama administration’s plan to fund alternative fuel technologies, Tesla Motors today paid off the final $451.8 million in their government loan – nine years ahead of schedule. What does this mean for the future of government funding and the EV industry in the future?

“I would like to thank the Department of Energy and the members of Congress and their staffs that worked hard to create the ATVM program, and particularly the American taxpayer from whom these funds originate,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk. “I hope we did you proud.”

Tesla also made smaller payments in 2012 and earlier this year, fulfilling the entire $465 million loan entirely with today’s payment. The electric automaker is riding a wave of momentum, as its stock price rocketed after posting their first quarterly profit and receiving a 99/100 score from Consumer Report on their new Model S sedan.

The success of Tesla is due to many factors, especially when compared to recent failures like that of Fisker and Coda. For one, Tesla has the private backing of Musk, who pumped hundreds of millions of his own money into the company during rough times. For another, the Model S has been a massive hit since its release last summer. But vehicle sales alone have not been enough to offset the massive costs of auto production.

Several shrewd business moves proved to take Tesla to the top, from outfitting an old Toyota plant to produce cars rather than buying and building a brand new facility, to a partnership with companies like Mercedes-Benz to develop and sell battery component for use in their future cars.

Tesla seems to be on solid ground for the first time in its ten-year history, thanks to sounds business decisions and, yes, a quality product. Past disasters may have cooled government loans for the time being, but Telsa proves that investing in the right company can go a long way. Their place in the industry now solidified, we have a bright future ahead that includes not only Tesla vehicles, but other brands making better cars thanks to their work.

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Visit theautoMedia.comTesla Research Centerfor quick access to reviews, pricing, photos, mpg and more. Make sure to followautoMedia.comonTwitterandFacebook.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

Tesla Model S Adds Optional $6,500 Performance Package Plus

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Tesla Motors has set out to prove that their Model S is not just a great electric car, but a great car, period, since it hit the market. They’ve taken the next step with today’s announcement that a new handling setup with summer tires, called the Performance Package Plus, will be available for $6,500.

Tesla says the package will bring “supercar handling” to the Model S, which is a frightening thought for any other sub-$100,000 luxury sedan on the market. The Model S has already proven itself to have impressive acceleration and is obviously loaded with tech. Plus, nearly a year after its release there haven’t been any major issues with its futuristic powertrain. Will a new handling package elevate the Model S even further in the minds of luxury buyers?

Available only on the top 85kWh Performance trim, the Performance Package Plus includes 21-inch Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires and improvements to the suspension dampers, bushings and anti-roll bars. Normally, the 85kWh Model S offers 19-inch all-season tires or optional 21-inch Continental ExtremeContact DW tires – the PS2 set will provide a noticeable improvement.

The advantages don’t boil down exclusively to the handling, though. Tesla also says that the Performance Package Plus will increase the driving range of the Model S. Somehow, the setup that will help the Model S attack hairpin turns will also take it from 265 miles to 277 miles on a single charge.

We’re patiently waiting for more information to come out on the new package, and can’t wait to test it out for ourselves. The Model S has been a smashing sales success thus far, already besting the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, and this new setup could convert the last remaining non-believers.

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Visit theautoMedia.comTesla Research Centerfor quick access to reviews, pricing, photos, mpg and more. Make sure to followautoMedia.comonTwitterandFacebook.

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By Ryan ZumMallen