Good corporate citizen Tesla helped the owners of its vehicles trying to flee Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Southeast. Tesla sent an over-the-air update that increased the range of Teslas with 60 kWh batteries by about 15 percent, or 30 to 40 miles, allowing them to escape a little farther north and away from Irma.
No good deed goes unpunished. A number of posts online berated Tesla for tinkering with their cars without permission, or for not making the extra range available long ago, or for scaring us about the potentially Orwellian possibilities of remote control of your car’s innards. Dude, pass the doob and protest the Man.
How the Magical Extra Miles Appeared Overnight
Tesla provides a raft of features, updates, and fixes that can be downloaded to your car automatically. In some cases, you pay extra and unlock a feature embedded in the car but not available until you pony up. Such was the case with the 60 kWh battery pack in some Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles. They’re actually 75 kWh batteries limited by software to output only 60 kWh, and consequently the Tesla P60 and P60D vehicles sold for several thousand dollars less.
To go from 60 to 75 kWh capablities, a Tesla owner pays, currently, $ 2,0o0 to get the extra range unlocked via an OTA update. It had been as much as $ 9,000. A Model S 60 is rated at 208 miles (EPA cycle); a Model S 75 is rated at 249 miles. Tesla send a time-limited unlock late last week; it’s set to expire at the end of this weekend.
Over-the-air updates are less common in other cars, but it’s coming quickly. The same goes for feature unlocks. Where Tesla owners typically prefer the ease of an upgrade coming in automatically via the car’s telematics system, owners of more mainstream cars are more distrusting of technology and would rather spend an hour, or the morning, updating their car manually.
The most common example of an OTA feature unlock is satellite radio. Automakers embed the SiriusXM chipset in the car head unit and add a rooftop antenna for perhaps $ 20, their cost. It’s enabled when you start driving your new car and is good for 90 days, six months, or a year as a free trial. Then it goes off. You purchase a subscription and a time unlock code is sent to the car.
Field Day for Conspiracy Theorists
Not everyone with access to WordPress was thrilled by Tesla’s seemingly benevolent move. Tesla’s move was a precursor to Big Brother, it showed how your car became a puppet of a big company, yada-yada. If there’s one Tesla-threat-or-menace screed to skim, it’s “Tesla’s Hurricane Irma Update Taps Into Our Deepest Fears Of 21st Century Driving,” from our colleagues at Jalopnik:
The move was praiseworthy and appropriate, but at the root of the gesture lies a terrifying prospect of our automotive future….
[What Tesla’s range unlock] previewed is our imminent future of unprecedented corporate control over how we drive and what we drive. … it’s not hard to imagine a worst case scenario where a company or corporation becomes a critical decision maker in disaster scenarios, like with Hurricane Irma, out of consumer and government control in a critical moment.
Now, I’ve never been one to play into the fears of autonomous driving or ridiculous theories of car hacking …. [but what] would happen if Tesla didn’t unlock the range of those cars? … We now face a reality where … our vehicles may hold more potential than we have access to, and that gets complicated in life or death scenarios.
[If people have autonomous car software that isn’t unlocked] will the company always act to optimize autonomous evacuation by temporarily unlocking those features?
If millions of people flood the roadways [so to speak – Ed.], with (let’s assume) wealthier populations having access to the optimized and controlled hive of the autonomous network, and everybody else is left with the hardware but limited by how much they spent whenever they bought the car, we’re putting the lives of wealthier people at a higher value, and leaving those who remain with a purely-financial barrier to survival.
In other words, Tesla may be discriminating in favor of richer owners of a $ 100,000 Model S or Model X, over those of limited means who own the same cars.
Did Tesla’s Offer Ultimately Make a Difference?
The hardest hit part of the Florida mainland was the Marco Island/Naples area, located as far south as Miami but on the west coast. From there, the nearest out-of-state Supercharger site is in Tifton, Georgia, 450 miles away. En route, you pass eight (by our count) Supercharger sites, capable of recharging 5-10 cars an hour, depending on the number of outlets. To reach Georgia, each Tesla would need at least one full charge and probably a couple top-offs just in case power to the sites went out. (They were reported functioning through Saturday, at least.) With cars traveling slowly, needing two to four times the norm to travel each mile, range would plummet, especially if air conditioning was used.
We’d like to hear from Tesla owners who went north, on how crowded they found Supercharger sites in Florida over the weekend. Feel free to comment.
Our take: Tesla’s gesture to unlock the 60 kWh cars for 10 days was a nice one, period. This isn’t a case of what Big Brother giveth in all things, he can later take away. Owners of the Model S 60 and 60D knew what they were buying and that they could, for a fee, become at any time a 75/75D owner.
By the way, Tesla also has said that its cars are so tightly built, they float. Just like James Bond’s Lotus (video above) and 1960s Volkswagen Beetles.