The Cybertruck may be the hot new thing, but it isn’t Tesla’s most transformative product. Not by a long shot.
That title arguably goes to the Model S, the luxury sedan that put both Tesla and electric vehicles on the map like never before when it launched in 2012. So where’s the game-changing four-door now? Relegated to a new “Other Models” section on Tesla’s latest press release detailing its annual vehicle sales.
It’s a rather unceremonious demotion for one of the most important cars of the last decade—if not the century.
Sleek, performance-packed and brimming with flashy tech, the Model S was nothing like the boring EVs before it, and it proved definitively that electric cars could be cool, fun and desirable. Fast-forward a decade, and practically every carmaker on the planet—from General Motors to BMW to Volkswagen—is betting big on electric propulsion. Much of that enthusiasm can be traced back to the Model S.
Still, the deemphasis makes sense when you look at how far Tesla has come over the years. The Model S just isn’t that important to its business anymore.
The success of that original sedan and, subsequently, the Model X SUV, let Tesla plow resources into what have become its real moneymakers: the more affordable, mass-market Model 3 sedan and Model Y SUV. That was always Elon Musk’s plan.
Tesla notched its first profitable year on the backs of the Model Y and Model 3 in 2020. And rapidly growing sales globally of those two cash cows have continued to fuel Tesla’s success while Model S and X sales have dwindled. In 2023, the automaker sold a record 1.81 million vehicles worldwide. Of those, 1.74 million were Model 3s and Ys. The remaining 68,874 sales came from “Other Models.” Those are the Model S, Model X and brand-spanking-new Cybertruck.
This isn’t to say Tesla has completely forgotten about the Model S. For years it’s remained the benchmark that other luxury EVs are measured against. And it’s still among the most impressive electric sedans you can buy, offering an almost unmatched 405 miles of range and a supercar-beating zero-to-60-mph time of just two seconds.
Tesla may not give the Model S much love, in official sales releases at least, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to appreciate its monumental significance. In addition to helping spark the EV revolution and breathing life into what’s now the world’s most valuable carmaker, the sedan made some other indelible contributions to the automotive landscape.
The Model S was the first car that could receive over-the-air software updates, just like a smartphone or computer. Now that’s standard industry practice, and car companies hope to reap billions of dollars from software-related services. When the Model S launched, Tesla started building Supercharger stations for buyers. Now Tesla operates the largest charging network in the US and is starting to offer access to non-Tesla owners, a move that could spark a new boom time for EV sales.
And then there’s the impact you’re most likely to have experienced in your day-to-day life, regardless of whether you own an EV or not. The Model S pioneered the use of a huge centrally mounted touchscreen in a car. If you’re miffed by all the missing buttons and knobs in your new car, now you know who—or what—to blame.