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article imageTesla boosted battery range during Irma, raising questions

By Karen Graham     Sep 13, 2017 in Technology
Owners of certain models of Tesla's SUVs and sedans fleeing Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma were surprised to discover their vehicles were getting 30 to 40 miles more range than expected. Tesla confirmed they can control the cars remotely.
Tesla confirmed to NBC News they were able to reprogram its vehicles remotely to increase the amount of battery capacity a motorist in the evacuation area could access.
Tesla used an unforeseen feature of their over-the-air software system upgrade to unlock the full battery pack capacity of Model S/X 60/60D vehicles with 75 kWh battery packs.
Tesla told Electrek a Tesla owner in Florida reached out to them, saying they needed another 30 or so miles on their battery pack to escape from Hurricane Irma. Tesla agreed to give temporary access to the full 75 kWh of energy in the battery pack.
Tesla Model S and Model X side by side at the Gilroy Supercharger  California.
Tesla Model S and Model X side by side at the Gilroy Supercharger, California.
Steve Jurvetson
The wireless upgrade was used to target select base versions of Tesla's SUV and sedan models. Known as the Models S and X 60, 60D, 70 and 70D, which had 60 kilowatt-hours of battery capacity. However, Tesla, in a bid to reduce factory costs, put the 75 kWh battery packs in all the vehicles.
Once out of the factory, Tesla used software to allow an owner of the less expensive models to only access part of the battery pack, although an upgrade costing between $4,500 and $9,000 depending on the model was available, with just a small over-the-air update.
Tesla has an extensive range of supercharger stations all across Florida, and all the charging stations remained functional up until Irma hit the Sunshine State. Most of the stations have remained on line through the storm and its aftermath. The remote upgrade will remain in effect until September 16, says Tesla.
Tesla Greenwich North Supercharger Station in a rest area of Merritt Parkway in Greenwich  Connectic...
Tesla Greenwich North Supercharger Station in a rest area of Merritt Parkway in Greenwich, Connecticut.
It should be noted that Tesla no longer sells base versions of its Models S and X because there was little demand. Most owners of those models have been willing to cough up the extra money for extended battery range. But even still, not everyone was happy.
The biggest concern voiced by a number of Tesla owners was the extent to which Tesla was able to control their cars. Most other automakers “sell vehicles that are incapable of learning and improving and are highly vulnerable to obsolescence,” said Adam Jonas, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, according to the New York Times.
Tesla has made its mark in the industry with its over-the-air technology that allows the company to make upgrades remotely, and it is an efficient method that reduces obsolescence. This also reduces the need for owners to run to a dealership every time an upgrade is needed.
2016 Tesla Model X finished in black. Picture taken in Lantana  Florida.
2016 Tesla Model X finished in black. Picture taken in Lantana, Florida.
Christopher Ziemnowicz
Tesla wasn't the only company to help customers in hurricane ravaged Florida last week. Citing "exceptional circumstances," wireless carriers including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon waived overage charges for data customers in Florida. Nearly 200 Airbnb hosts opened their homes to evacuees for free.
Colin Rusch, a managing director at Oppenheimer, the investment bank said this was Tesla's first wireless upgrade due to a particular event, but we could see more.
“You’re bringing a consumer electronics mentality to a durable-goods product,” Mr. Rusch said. “Adding incremental functionality is an ongoing process for Tesla. We’ll see them continue to participate in that over-the-air market.” And one thing Tesla owners didn't have to worry about was the resulting gas shortage brought about with Hurricane Irma.
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