Tesla software update grants extra battery power to drivers escaping Hurricane Irma


On September 11, 2017, while Florida residents were evacuating during the approach of Hurricane Irma, Tesla rolled out a real-time software update that increased the battery capacity of some of its Model S sedans and Model X SUVs. The update extended the vehicles' range, enabling drivers to travel further on a single charge, and was rolled out in response to requests for help from customers stuck in traffic while trying to evacuate. Tesla said the increase was temporary, and would be reversed on September 16. 

The company could do this because the capacity of some of its lower-priced models was restricted by software; customers who paid more at the time of purchase already had access to the batteries' full 75-kilowatt-hour capacity. This  technique has long been used in the software industry, where it makes for more efficient distribution while allowing users to pay to unlock new aspects of their software as they want or need them. However, this is the first time it's been applied to a car, and it requires drivers to think differently about how car "ownership" is changing. From one viewpoint, providing a lower-priced model offers increased choice and flexibility; from another, Tesla has used a paywall to lock off parts of the car's functionality. Just as Apple and Amazon retain ultimate remote control over the iPhones and Kindles they sell, Tesla retains control of its cars. This represents a significant shift in the balance of power in the customer-manufacturer relationship.


Writer: Brian Fung
Publication: Washington Post
Publication date: 2017-09-11

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