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With hype-devouring fans and copycat features, Tesla has become the Apple of cars

“It’s a supercar,” say the headlines, tweets, and social media blurbs about Tesla’s new P85D. CEO Elon Musk, quoted by USAToday, compares the fast sedan to the McLaren F1, and said during the extravagant launch it’s, “like having your own private roller coaster.” Images of swooping lines, slash-cut vents, and unfeasibly large tires flashed through my mind, surely it must look really special? It doesn’t. It looks exactly the same as every other Model S.

Tesla has become the Apple of the automotive world.

In late 2013, Apple introduced the iPhone 5S. During the unveiling event, much was made of the new 64-bit A7 processor. “The benefits are huge,” said Apple’s Phil Schiller, “it’s up to twice as fast as the previous generation chip, and 40 times faster than the original iPhone.” Wow, we all thought, what does the phone look like? The same as the iPhone 5, actually.

If it hadn’t already, with the P85D, Tesla has become the Apple of the automotive world. It has a growing army of fans ready to lavish an incremental update to an existing product with unjustified attention and adoration. Musk is a charismatic, cheeky frontman who cleverly draws attention away from the car being a stop gap between the Model S and Model X, by emphasizing its performance, and glossing over its aging platform.

Tesla and Apple, sitting in a tree

Comparing Tesla to Apple doesn’t stop with how it’s masking the dull reality of the Model S P85D with performance figures. The Model S is also home to Tesla’s new intelligent drive features. These include lane awareness, autopilot-style braking, and auto-parking tech. All of these are interesting, but hardly unique in the industry, an accusation often leveled (and usually rightly so) at Apple.

Despite promoting over-the-air software updates, modular components, and more as reasons Tesla cars are future-proof and a safe buy; Tesla’s also looking at Apple and the wider tech industry for inspiration on how to speed up the upgrade cycle. Regarding the latest clutch of new features, existing Model S owners are out of luck, because although Model S vehicles built in the run up to the D’s reveal will get these new bonuses, slightly older cars won’t. Just like iPhone 3G owners couldn’t get Siri.

Tesla’s cars are tech-driven, which means month-old vehicles becoming effectively obsolete will only get more common. If you don’t think that matters, (and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t) you probably own an Android phone. But to Apple fans, it does, and that’s the hype-loving crowd Tesla is attracting, and gleefully propagating.

Musk said about the Model S P85D, “We were able to improve almost everything about the car, and that’s a rare thing.” Maybe, but it’s not a rare statement to make. Apple’s Phil Schiller called the iPhone 5S, “The most forward thinking phone anyone has ever made,” which amounts to the same degree of hyperbole, while belittling the competition in a similar way. It goes even deeper. Tesla didn’t invent the electric car, just like Apple didn’t invent the smartphone or tablet, but the way many act you wouldn’t believe it.

Where does this leave the Model X, and does it really matter?

The iPhone 5S came a year after the iPhone 5, and a further year had to pass before the range was treated to a new design, with the introduction of the iPhone 6. If the P85D is Tesla’s iPhone 5S, where does that leave the Model X? Currently, the SUV is expected to go on sale sometime in 2015, but Musk has already downplayed the vehicle’s impending arrival. In an August earnings call, he claimed the company was “anti-selling” it, and pushing any interested customers towards the Model S.

Tesla’s journey to the Dark Side is almost complete.

The arrival of the all-wheel drive D comes two-and-a-half years after the first Model S was sent out for delivery. If it marks the halfway point, and is a smokescreen to obscure the Model X’s notable absence, then even taking into consideration increased familiarity with the manufacturing process; the highly anticipated, and commercially important SUV still may not arrive until late 2015.

However, it’s unlikely to matter, because Tesla’s journey to the Dark Side is almost complete. A delay is merely an opportunity to build more hype, and a precursor to even more gushing when something shiny and new finally arrives. Musk, who may as well have worn a black turtleneck sweater when he said it, confidently stated about the Model X, “We will not have a demand issue,” during that same conference call. Seeing as how closely Apple and Tesla’s trajectories match, he’s probably right. All the Model X will need is an even larger touchscreen on the dashboard, and it’ll be difficult to tell the two firms apart.