Tesla doesn’t run its business like other car makers do. Since the beginning of the automobile era, manufacturers have relied on the annual model change to introduce new styling and new features. Part of the reason is to help drive sales of new cars; people just naturally want the newest new thing. Marketing studies show that the typical car owner is starting to think about getting a new car every 18 months.
Tesla doesn’t play that game. A Model S built today looks almost identical to a Model S built in 2012. The company is working to make its powertrains last almost indefinitely. All of which means a Tesla depreciates less than any other car on the road. That’s an important factor when computing the total cost of ownership for a car.
Tesla does make changes to its cars, though. Elon Musk said recently the company makes about 20 engineering changes a week. Most of those are small things, but sometimes they can be major improvements. The company is also the only car maker that can download software upgrades to every car it has ever built wirelessly over the internet.
Just this year, the company has increased the size of it batteries and added dual motors to all models. Starting last October, it began building in the cameras, radar units and ultrasonic sensors needed for its Autopilot suite of autonomous driving features. Last month, it installed the software that activates all those features.
Elon Musk told investors during a conference call this month that people are often confused by the fact that Tesla does not have annual model changes and want to know when the best time is to buy one. “They say, ‘When should I buy a Model S?’ and my answer is always, ‘Right now.’ [A]nd they say, ‘Well, aren’t you going to make a better one in six months?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ But if their goal is to only buy a Model S when there aren’t significant improvements happening, then they will never buy one.”
Some people look forward to annual model changes, but Tesla refuses to think that way. If you want to own a Tesla, you better get used to it.