With real-life Iron Man Elon Musk at the helm, Tesla Motors has managed to challenge pretty much every stereotype that has plagued electric cars, from their top speed and acceleration through to their practicality and suitability for longer-distance trips.
On Thursday, the Californian automaker has promised to unveil something that it says will solve one of the biggest challenges to electric car adoption ever in the form of a free, over-the-air software update for every single all-electric Tesla Model S luxury sedan ever made.
That update, said Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] CEO Elon Musk yesterday evening on social media site Twitter, would end range anxiety forever.
Tesla press conf at 9am on Thurs. About to end range anxiety … via OTA software update. Affects entire Model S fleet.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 15, 2015
Range anxiety — the fear that your electric car will run out of charge before you reach your destination — is a real problem facing hundreds of first-time plug-in car owners around the globe. While it often fades with experience and time, some inexperienced electric car owners suffer such an acute range anxiety that they may not venture out of their home town for fear of not having somewhere to plug in.
More commonly suffered in the first few months of plug-in ownership, range anxiety can often be exacerbated by a negative charging experience such as finding a rapid charging station is offline or broken when there’s no other alternative. Those who suffer it are more likely to own shorter-range plug-in vehicles like the Nissan LEAF or Mitsubishi i-Miev than those who own longer-range or plug-in hybrid vehicles.
With an achievable range in excess of 180 miles for its low-end Tesla Model S 60 and a range in excess of 250 miles for its high-end Tesla Model S P85D, we’ve never associated range anxiety with any of Tesla’s electric cars. Thanks to Tesla’s rapidly-expanding network of Superchargers — which can recharge a Tesla Model S battery pack at speeds of up to 170 miles of range per half-hour and provide free, unlimited power to anyone with a Supercharger-equipped Model S — we’re struggling to think of any Tesla Model S owners who have worried about range anxiety as much as most plug-in owners we know.
As many in the automotive press, we’ve got to admit that we’re struggling to predict just what Thursday’s announcement will include. Since the update is coming over-the-air, we can say for certain that it’s unlikely to include anything to do with battery swapping or future battery pack capacity upgrades.
It could of course potentially be a software upgrade designed to allow the Model S to charge even more quickly from a Supercharge station, but if we had one guess, it would be that Tesla has made improvements to its on-board range prediction software.
Back in software update 6.1, Tesla introduced something called Trip Energy Prediction. A new feature designed to help owners predict how much range they’d have at their destination, the Energy Prediction graph is built into the Model S navigation system and takes into account elevation changes, speed and even predicted driving behavior based on past trips. Having used this on a recent trip from Oslo, Norway to London, England, we can verify that this feature is both useful and fairly accurate.
It’s conceivable that Tesla has found a way to tweak this software to allow owners to reduce their Model S’ power output under normal operating conditions to ensure that they can reach their destination no matter what. Similar to some of the ‘eco’ modes found on other plug-in vehicles, it might essentially reduce the power output from the motor at the expense of a few extra seconds on acceleration.
In most electric cars, this would result in a marked drop in performance. On even the entry-level Tesla Model S 60, there’s more than 280 kilowatts of power under normal operating conditions. Having driven the Tesla Model S 60 to near empty with just one mile of range remaining and power output restricted to around 160 kilowatts of that to protect the car’s battery pack however, we can attest to the fact that a Tesla Model S with no charge can still outperform most other cars on the road.
Sadly, our musings above are just educated guesses, but Tesla tells us we could hear more later today about the promised software update, with a full reveal taking place on Thursday morning at 9am Pacific.
As always, we’ll bring you more information as we have it.
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