Earlier this morning, UK-based car periodical AutoExpress published an exclusive interview with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in which Musk confirmed that the third generation Tesla — formerly known as the Model E — would now be called the Model III (or Model ≡, as we prefer).
But would-be Tesla Model ≡ owners aren’t the only people who should be getting excited as Musk also disclosed that Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) was about to offer some of its very first customers battery upgrades for their limited-production Roadsters.
Made between 2008 and 2011, the iconic $109,000+ Tesla Roadster broke the electric car mould, becoming the first electric car on sale to combine the performance of a spots car with a range in excess of 200 miles per charge. Used by Tesla as not only as a proof that electric cars could be fast, fun and sexy but also as a way to attract investors in the company, just 2,600 Tesla Roadsters were built in total under a special limited production-run agreement with UK sports car manufacturer Lotus.
While the body and chassis were made for Tesla by Lotus in the UK — and bore a striking resemblance to Lotus’ own Elise sports car — the design of the vehicle and its entire powertrain and battery pack came straight from Tesla. In fact, most Tesla Roadster received their final assembly in California, classing the car as a U.S.-made vehicle.
For more than six months, Musk has been promising existing Roadster owners “something special” would come their way later this year. Thanks to Autoexpress, we now know the something special means a battery upgrade pack for the iconic car.
“The Roadster had an old generation battery,” he told Autoexpress. “We’ll upgrade it to a new generation battery pack and it should have a range of about 400 miles, which will allow you to drive from LA to San Francisco non-stop.”
The original Roadster had an EPA-approved range of 244 miles per charge, meaning that Tesla’s optional upgrade will increase the Roadster’s range by around 156 miles. It would also make the limited-run Roadster — now a collector’s item — the longest-range EV on the road.
Where would the extra range come from? Simply put, energy density. Improvements in battery energy density — essentially how much energy can be stored by unit mass — mean that Tesla’s latest battery chemistry can store far more energy per kilo than the original Roadster.
In fact, the original Tesla Roadster battery pack could store just 117 watt-hours of energy per kilogram, while Tesla’s current Model S battery pack has an estimated energy density of 240 watt-hours per kilogram. This means one of two things: either Tesla’s upgraded Roadster battery pack will be physically the same size and weight as the original one but store far more than the 53 kilowatt-hours of the original battery pack, resulting in better range; or Tesla’s new Roadster battery pack will be physically smaller and lighter than the original, reducing weight, increasing energy efficiency and thus range.
While Musk didn’t speak about pricing, we’re guessing Tesla’s upgrade won’t be exactly cheap. Naturally, we’d expect Tesla to offer some form of trade-in program for existing Roadsters to help lower the cost of a next-gen Roadster battery pack, but don’t expect it to be quite as cheap as the $5,499 replacement battery pack cost Nissan is offering customers of its LEAF electric car.
That’s because Nissan’s LEAF battery pack offers only 24 kilowatt-hours of capacity, while the original Roadster pack comes in at a far larger 53 kilowatt-hours. As a consequence, we’d expect a battery pack upgrade to cost at least twice that of the one offered by Nissan. Add on a few thousand for any required modifications to charging technology, and we’d guess a rough ballpark figure of at least $12,000. (Disclaimer: this figure is purely speculative and not based on any solid figures. We have no idea what the actual cost will be, but we think this figure ‘feels’ about right.)
The upgrade follows a long Tesla tradition of offering its Roadster customers a whole range of upgrades for their cars. Even today, Tesla offers early Roadster owners upgrade packages to bring their first or second-generation Roadsters up to the specification of the final few cars. We’d guess that any battery upgrade would be offered in a similar vein, and hope that Supercharging capability would also be offered to make the Roadster a much more versatile vehicle. Since Tesla hasn’t released the details of the upgrade yet, we’re a little in the dark as to what exactly will be upgraded, however.
Whatever the Roadster battery pack upgrade will entail, you can be sure we’ll bring you more news as soon as we have it.
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