Elon Musk: We’re Offering Tesla Roadster Electric Car Owners a 400 Mile Battery Pack Upgrade

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).

Tesla's original Roadster owners will be able to soon upgrade their car's battery pack for up to 400 miles of range.

Tesla’s original Roadster owners will be able to soon upgrade their car’s battery pack for up to 400 miles of range.

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.

Along with the GM EV1, The Roadster is an Iconic Electric Car

Along with the GM EV1, The Roadster is an Iconic Electric Car

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.

Whats not known yet is if the Roadster battery pack upgrade will make the Roadster Supercharger-friendly. We hope so.

Whats not known yet is if the Roadster battery pack upgrade will make the Roadster Supercharger-friendly. We hope so.

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.

Nissan recently offered its LEAF owners a way to upgrade their car battery packs to latest battery technology.

Nissan recently offered its LEAF owners a way to upgrade their car battery packs to latest battery technology.

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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  • Dennis Pascual

    I am still skeptical of the Roadster portion of the announcement. The verbiage of the Tesla Motors tweet that “confirmed” the article specifically confirmed the Model III name, and not much else. Fellow Roadster owners at the teslamotorsclub.com forums are all agog at the article and the 400 mile battery. nnnI am cautiously optimistic that this is indeed the case, the devil will be in the details. At $12,000 it’s a good price point, but not one that I would necessarily purchase right away. The Roadster right now is not very comfortable to sit in for 100 miles straight, and would be useful to get out and stretch the legs, etc.

    • David Peilow

      As a fellow Roadster owner I’m not that surprised by the announcement. We always knew a 400 mile battery was possible once Panasonic launched their long promised latest chemistry. In fact this chemistry first appeared in a roadmap presentation and press release back in 2009.nnTesla always had to release an updated pack thanks to the $12000 replacement battery option they sold owners when the car was first released. As it wouldn’t make sense to go back to procuring old technology and they have to do the engineering anyway, they may as well make the pack state of the art and use the car as a testbed for the latest chemistry once again, as well as return it to flagship status.nnPanasonic has a 3.6 Ah cell out now which would give about 370 miles range (based on extrapolating from the Roadster’s original, old style, EPA range). They are also due to release a 4.1 Ah cell within a year that would give around 420 miles on the same obsolete test. However, as the new EPA test that the Model S and Leaf are measured by gives significantly lower range and is much closer to real world numbers, even this bigger capacity cell would produce a range in the high 200s and wouldn’t meet the San Francisco to LA objective.nnI also have a hunch that this isn’t the only upgrade in the works.

  • EV docmaker

    The actual range for the ROADSTER upgrade will be around 340 miles of real world driving but hey so what that is great !

  • tomcsy44

    what galls me is that Tesla pitched the fact that they were going to build charging stations coast to coast as an additional incentive to buy the Roadster. In a nutshell, Musk has turned his back on the very same Roadster owners that put Tesla on the map. I, for one, would be the first to sign up if a class action lawsuit were to be implemented.