This time last week, Californian automaker Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] got September off to a roaring start by confirming that its long-awaited Tesla Roadster 3.0 upgrade package for its iconic two-seat sports car would soon go on sale for an eye-watering $29,000, inclusive of all necessary labor charges.
But as some eager Tesla Roadster owners over at the Tesla Motors Club discovered, Tesla’s 3.0 upgrade package is only compatible with Tesla Roadster 2.0 and Tesla Roadster 2.5 models.
We’ll explain why we think Tesla’s earliest Roadsters aren’t compatible with the upgrade in a moment — but first it’s worth reminding ourselves of what’s included for $29,000.
The most costly component of the upgrade is of course a brand-new, next-generation lithium-ion battery pack. While the original 54 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack found in Tesla’s limited-production Roadster was indeed cutting-edge at the time, the cylindrical 18650 form-factor battery cells used by Tesla in its roadster have been superseded in the past six years by several generations of battery technology. The latest 18650 cells used by Tesla in its upcoming Model X have a far higher energy density than the original Roadster cells. This means they can store far more energy for a given volume. They also happen to use a brand-new battery chemistry, which are capable of a longer-life and can provide peak performance in a much wider range of situations and states of charge.
Indeed, the Roadster 3.0 battery pack, while the same physical size as the original Roadster pack, can store a massive 40 percent more energy per cell, resulting in a storage capacity of around 75 kilowatt-hours versus the 54 kilowatt-hours of the original pack. This increased battery pack, along with newly-designed aerodynamic body package, new wheels with lower rolling-resistance tires, and improved braking system, increases range from the original 245 miles per charge to more than 400 miles per charge (in the right environment).
While Tesla hasn’t responded to our request yet to clarify why its earliest Roadster models — essentially the first 500 or so Roadsters made — aren’t compatible with the upgrade, we’ve chatted to various sources and been able to piece together an explanation.
Our sources say that the likely reason for the incompatibility between Tesla Roadster 1.x cars and the 3.0 upgrade is the engineering differences between the 1.x and 2.x cars.
Most importantly is the power electronics. Early production Tesla Roadsters used a power management system which was based on licensed, third-party technology. For 2.x cars, Tesla used its own in-house power electronics system, which used an entirely different, proprietary design to the earliest cars.
There are also some significant differences our sources say, in the way in which earlier cars’ battery packs are configured and arranged within the vehicle. While that shouldn’t’ cause an engineering problem with the 3.0 upgrade per se, the differences are likely large enough to prevent an affordable, practical upgrade process for early Roadster owners.
Combined with the challenges of offering an upgrade on a system that’s not entirely Tesla-engineered, we’re guessing it’s enough to ensure those early 1.x Tesla Roadster owners won’t get the upgrade.
We’re sure those with early 1.x Tesla Roadsters are probably frustrated about this piece of news, but here at Transport Evolved we’d like to remind readers that were it any other automaker but Tesla, it’s unlikely Roadster owners would even be offered a battery upgrade. And while under a quarter of all Tesla Roadsters ever made — around 500 or so 1.x cars — won’t be compatible with the Roadster 3.0 upgrade, there are some other options which are still available for owners of early cars.
The first would be a like-for-like replacement battery pack. While the Roadster 3.0 upgrade won’t be available for those early 500 Roadster owners, a replacement 1.x pack is still available. And at 245 miles per charge, even a Tesla Roadster 1.x is capable of traveling further than the majority of modern electric cars on a single charge.
The next would be a trade-in for Tesla’s Model S or Model X. While many of those early Roadster owners still use their cars as a daily driver, the earliest 1.x cars are now more than seven years old. Considering the Roadster’s limited production run and high sticker price, we’re sure many of those early cars, while still suitable as a daily driver, are soon destined for life as a prized collectable car or perhaps a weekend fun thing while a more modern model takes on the daily chores.
Our conclusion? The 1.x ineligibility to the Tesla Roadster 3.0 upgrade is a shame — but an inevitable part of life as newer models replace the ones which went before.
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