Tesla Wirelessly Upgraded Owners’ Car Batteries to Help Them Flee Irma

Range anxiety can be a frustrating problem in the best of circumstances, but it could be life threatening for those fleeting a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Irma.

Tesla made things a little easier for owners of several versions of its Model S sedan and Model X in the days leading up to the arrival of the storm, however; a period during which Governor Rick Scott advised millions of Florida residents to evacuate.

Drivers on social media have been quoted indicating that they were getting as much as 30 to 40 miles more range than expected. A Tesla spokesperson confirmed to NBC News that the automaker used its ability to reprogram its vehicles wirelessly to increase the amount of battery capacity a motorist in the evacuation area could access.

The upgrade was specifically targeted to affect select base versions of Tesla’s SUV and sedan models. Known as the Models S and X 60, 60D, 70 and 70D, they had 60 kilowatt-hours of battery capacity. But, in a bid to reduce factory complexity — and costs — those versions actually shared the same, 75 kWh battery used in the more expensive, but longer-range Models S and X 75 and 75D models. Coming out of the factory, Tesla used software to allow an owner of the less expensive models to only access part of the battery pack.

In fact, it already offered owners the ability to upgrade their vehicle — for a price ranging from $4,500 to $9,000 — to get access to the full 75 kWh capacity. That could be done with a simple, over-the-air update.

In light of the risks posed to owners struggling to leave Florida as Irma approached, Tesla decided to let all owners get the maximum range out of vehicles with the 75 kWh battery pack, using a wireless upgrade to boost range to about 230 miles at highway speeds. For someone heading from Miami to, say, Atlanta, that cuts by one the number of stops needed to charge along the way. For a drive to Detroit or New York City, as many as two charge stops could be eliminated.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Paul A. Eisenstein