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Elon Musk named his Tesla Model S 'Old Faithful,' he tells Colbert

In an upcoming software update, Tesla owners can attach a name to their engine-less electric rides. For Musk, it's "Old Faithful," he tells Stephen Colbert.

2014 Tesla Model S
Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Owners of the Model S or Roadster from Tesla Motors -- the maker of all-electric luxury cars that's helmed by technologist-turned-industrialist Elon Musk -- have always had a penchant for creative vanity plates. Now they'll be able to take it one step further and actually name their car like we do smartphones and portable hard drives that we plug in to our computers.

The feature will arrive in an upcoming software update, Musk told Stephen Colbert Thursday. Naturally, the Tesla CEO has the software early, and he named his Model S "Old Faithful," as much an evocation of nature as it is a boast of the electric vehicle's record-setting range.

In the wide-ranging, occasionally highly technical interview, Colbert -- a Tesla owner and certified science fiction fanatic -- let Musk's inner engineer run free in a rare display. Some key geeky topics: why rockets need to be reusable; why we should have electric jets that take off vertically; the future of wireless charging; and the propulsion differences between a manned spacecraft and Tesla's experimental Grasshopper rocket prototype.

However, perhaps the most interesting part of the conversation was when Colbert prodded Musk about his motives in opening up Tesla's patents in a good faith agreement with other electric-vehicle makers. As Colbert put it, "Why are you being the Edward Snowden of you?"

While many critics have pointed out that the decision is not entirely altruistic -- Tesla has much to gain by collaborating on infrastructure with larger, more established players like Nissan and BMW -- Musk was steadfast in aligning his intentions with his famously grandiose ambitions. This isn't about selling cars. It's about helping save mankind.

"If we're all in a ship together," Musk replied, "and the ship has some holes in it, and we're sort of bailing water out of it, and we have a great design for a bucket, then even if we're bailing out way better than everyone else, we should probably still share the bucket design."

Amid the crowd applause, Musk concluded, "Because we're all going to sink."

Not one to brood over the eminent destruction of humanity, Colbert made sure to touch on the most important question of all: where are the jetpacks? Musk says the physics make it too difficult.