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Tesla turns Insane up to Ludicrous, increases Model S range

Tesla's Elon Musk announced two upgrades to the Model S today, an improvement in acceleration and an increase in its battery pack output, both available to existing customers.

2015 Tesla Model S P85D
Tesla gives owners of the Model S P85D an acceleration upgrade and more battery capacity. Josh Miller/CNET

In a press conference today, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced two performance upgrades and a new version of the Model S. We reviewed the Model S P85D in March; as upgrades, Tesla is amping up the P85D's acceleration from Insane to Ludicrous mode and offering a battery pack upgrade from 85 kilowatt-hours to 90 kilowatt-hours. Tesla is also making a rear-wheel-drive Model S 70 available for $70,000. International pricing and availability wasn't announced.

One of Tesla's original promised virtues of the Model S was that existing models could be upgraded, partially eliminating the need for owners to buy whole new cars. Tesla previously demonstrated this point with over-the-air software upgrades for the car. The newly announced electronics and battery pack upgrades show that Tesla extends this idea to hardware, although at a cost to the owner.

The increased acceleration comes courtesy of a change to the electronics linking the battery pack and motor. Tesla managed to increase the power from 1,300 amps to a maximum of 1,500 amps. Designed for P85D models, which have an Insane acceleration mode selectable from the car's control panel, this upgrade changes that acceleration to what Tesla calls Ludicrous. That means an improvement from the original 3.1 seconds to 60 mph to a new 2.8 seconds to 60 mph.

Musk admitted that customers haven't been asking for more acceleration, but that the new Ludicrous mode was a way for Tesla to demonstrate its engineering expertise.

Owners of the Model S P85D can opt for the upgrade at a cost of $5,000, plus labor, for the next six months. Buyers of a new P85D will need to pay an extra $10,000 to get the Ludicrous option.

More range

More generally useful, Musk also announced Tesla has increased the battery pack capacity to a maximum of 90 kilowatt-hours from 85 kilowatt-hours, resulting in a range of 300 miles at 65 mph, a 15-mile increase. Buyers of a new Model S with an 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack will be able to opt for the $3,000 90-kilowatt-hour upgrade. Current owners of a Model S with an 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack can opt for the upgrade as well, although Musk said he would only recommend it for drivers who are regularly at the limit of their range.

The 90-kilowatt-hour upgrade does not involve adding cells to the battery pack. Rather, Musk said that Tesla has changed the anode chemistry, using more silicon. Anode chemistry has been used in other development projects to increase battery efficiency. This increase was driven by Tesla's development of the Model X, which Musk said is using about 10 percent more energy per mile than the Model S.

Musk also said he expects Tesla to increase battery capacity by 5 to 10 percent every two years.

People looking for a cheaper model gain a new option with the new Model S 70. Coming in at $5,000 less than the current Model S 70D, which uses two motors for all-wheel-drive, the Model S 70 will be rear-wheel-drive and cost $70,000.

2015 Tesla Model S 4dr Sdn RWD 60 kWh Battery