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Edward Niedermeyer

Tesla's Radical Update Is Just More of the Same

The Model S has autopilot! Just like the Ford Focus.
Purveyor of tradition.

Purveyor of tradition.

Photographer: Jerry Lampen/AFP/Getty Images

Tesla Model S owners the world over woke up today to the long-awaited Version 7.0 software update, beamed to their vehicles' operating systems as they slept. Having dominated public perceptions of the electric car market, Tesla is trying to stay at the forefront of the emerging automotive technology arms race by delivering self-driving features to its rabid fans. But as lukewarm initial reviews of the new autopilot and other features begin to pour in from media outlets and Tesla owners' forums, it's becoming clear that the company's need to chase futurist hype is as much a liability as an asset.

In a business dominated by companies that have mastered the art of manufacturing highly reliable vehicles at low cost and huge scale, Tesla has clawed out a niche by recapturing the automobile's ability to point the way toward an exciting future, rekindling the spark once lit by Detroit's rocket-powered and jet-inspired concepts. But with Google and Apple moving into the crowded market, Tesla has little choice but to push forward from alternative energy to autonomous driving. And in that realm, it's hardly breaking new ground.