Tesla Launches Upgraded Model S To Push High-End Model Sales

Tesla Inc.’s high-end sedan that helped establish the company as the world’s leading electric-vehicle maker has received a breathe of life with the redesign of the Model S.

The launch of the redesigned Model S is the latest sign that Tesla has evolved into an established manufacturer that also has to upgrade legacy models to keep potential buyers interested.

The Silicon Valley company late Thursday marked the delivery of a souped-up version of its luxury sedan.

Mr. Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has billed it as the quickest production car on the market. The vehicle, dubbed Model S Plaid, can accelerate from zero to 60 miles an hour in less than two seconds, Tesla says on its website, and is priced starting around $130,000.

“There is something that’s quite important to the future of sustainable energy, which is that we’ve got to show that an electric car is the best car, hands down,” Mr. Musk said at Thursday’s event, where he drove one of the vehicles on stage.

The revamp comes nearly a decade after Tesla launched the car, which became one of the world’s first widely sold battery-powered vehicles. But sales have slumped in recent years as the company has focused on developing more-affordable vehicles.

Deliveries of the luxury sedan and another high-end offering, the Model X sport-utility vehicle, fell to a combined 57,085 last year, from a high of more than 101,000 in 2017. Overall vehicle handoffs to customers soared nearly fivefold in that time.

The launch reflects Mr. Musk’s track record of showmanship as well as missed deadlines. He has frequently talked up the vehicle, which has a name adopted from Mel Brooks’s blockbuster “Spaceballs” movie.

The car also is arriving late. Mr. Musk in January said that he expected the Model S Plaid to be in customer hands the following month, but the overhaul proved to be more difficult than expected. The event itself began more than an hour after its initial scheduled time.

The delay means Tesla has so far largely missed out on this year’s booming demand for luxury vehicles, which typically are more lucrative for auto makers. U.S. sales of vehicles priced above $80,000 more than doubled in the first five months of the year, from the same period in 2019, according to research firm J.D. Power. Tesla delivered 2,030 combined Model S and Model X vehicles in the first quarter.

The Model S Plaid has an estimated range of 390 miles, according to Tesla, and a redesigned interior featuring three display screens, including one for rear passengers that enables in-car videogaming.

The vehicle has an unusual yolk-shaped steering wheel and does away with the traditional gear selector. Instead, the vehicle “guesses drive direction” based on context including obstacles and the navigation map, and drivers can use a touch screen to override those assumptions, Mr. Musk has said.