Unlike most cars on the market today, both the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X electric cars have the capability to gain new functionality and features without ever visiting a Tesla Service Center. This is made possible via over the air (OTA) software updates sent wirelessly to each customer’s car via a convenient WiFi hotspot within range of a parked Tesla or through the car’s always-on high-speed 4G Internet connection.
To date, the OTA system has been used to bring exciting new features to the Model S and Model X, including turning on Autopilot autonomous driving capabilities in Tesla electric cars made after October 2014, improved range prediction algorithms and Supercharger-aware route planning, changes to available Internet radio streaming service and most recently, a free trial of Autopilot capabilities for those who have a hardware-ready car but chose not to enable the feature at time of purchase.
Now it’s being used to give owners of the facelifted Tesla Model S 70 a little more range, too. How? Some careful engineering and a software switch.
You see, unbeknownst to everyone, the Tesla Model S 70 battery pack doesn’t exist any more. Ever since Tesla announced the facelifted 2016 Model S last month, every Tesla Model S 70 that has shipped from Fremont has actually been a Tesla Model S 75 in disguise. And that’s how Tesla is using its OTA technology to magically give customer’s cars 15 miles more of range.
As CarAndDriver explained on Friday, the larger-capacity 75 kWh battery pack is all part of Tesla’s continuous evolution of Model S, replacing components with newer, more capable ones as and when they become available. But due to the extra cost involved in making it, the cost of that 75 kWh battery pack is $3,000 more than the 70 kWh battery pack. And while $3,000 may not be a lot to a customer buying a fully-kitted top-spec Tesla Model S P95D, for someone trying to get on the Tesla ownership ladder with an entry-level Model S, suddenly finding you’ll need to pay an extra $3,000 to buy your new electric car might be something of a deal-killer.
Tesla’s solution? Install 75 kWh battery packs in every entry-level Model S but only allow the car to use 70 kWh of capacity. Those who want the extra capacity offered by the 75 kWh battery pack can then either specify it at the point of ordering for $3,000 more, or activate it post-purchase via an OTA update costing $3,250. As for those who had their facelifted Model S 70 or S 70D delivered before the announcement? Tesla says it will charge the standard $3,000 upgrade fee.
Naturally, cars which ship from the factory as Model S 75 variants will come with the correct tailgate badge identifying them as such. Those who pay to upgrade post-delivery will also get a new badge, fitted the next time their cars head to their local Tesla Service Center to ensure everyone knows their car can go just a little bit further on every charge.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Tesla has used a software restriction on its Model S battery pack. Back when the Tesla Model S first launched, it was advertised with three battery pack choices: a 40 kWh pack, 60 kWh pack and 85 kWh pack. While the 85 kWh pack was the most popular, those who couldn’t afford the extra costs associated with what was the longest-range Tesla at the time, the majority of those who opted for a more affordable Model S ended up buying a 60 kWh rather than 40 kWh model.
Indeed, before a single Model S 40 had rolled off the production line, Tesla announced demand for the entry-level Model S 40 was so low that it wouldn’t actually produce a 40 kWh battery pack. Instead, it said, it would offer Model S 40 reservation holders the chance to upgrade to a 60 kWh battery pack, giving them more range and capabilities. Those who decided not to upgrade were still given a car with a 60 kWh battery pack but restricted in software to only allow 40 kWh of available capacity to be used.
Post purchase, they too could upgrade their battery pack as desired for a one-off activation fee.
We’re not sure how long Tesla will continue to offer customers the option of a cheaper, intentionally restricted 75 kWh battery pack masquerading as a 70 kWh pack alongside the more expensive 75 kWh pack for Model S, but it has got us wondering.
If Tesla made a battery upgrade to the Model S 70 as part of the 2016 Facelift, replacing it with a 75 kWh version, is the same true for the high-end Tesla Model S 95D? If so, does this mean the rumored 100 kWh battery pack upgrade is just around the corner — or perhaps even hiding in recently built Model S 95D and Model X 95D models?
Leave your answers in the comments below.
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