As Hurricane Irma began to rock the south coast of the U.S. this weekend and residents fled their homes in search of safety, owners of some base-spec Tesla sedans and SUVs were surprised to find their vehicles’ batteries’ capacities suddenly ballooned.
Traffic jams and gas stations running out of fuel left many Florida residents worried about whether their means of road transportation could help them reliably escape worried the storm’s path, and that included owners of Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles in 60 and 60D trims, the lowest-cost models with the shortest ranges.
But after one Tesla owner called in to inquire about their battery’s capacity, the California automaker used its remote over-the-air software update capabilities to boost the driving range of all of these electric cars and help their owners get out of Irma’s way.
Purchasers of 60 and 60D cars and SUVs could opt for a 75-kWh battery pack when they ordered their vehicles that would be software-locked to an effective 60 kWh, resulting in “a less expensive vehicle with a shorter range, but the option to pay to remotely enable the longer range at a later stage,” explains Electrek.
Tesla’s free remote unlock of this extra range for owners in the path of Irma gave them an additional 30 to 40 miles (50 to 60 km) of range to aid in their getting out of the hurricane’s way. The option, to turn the 60/60D into a 75/75D, typically costs between $4,500 and $9,000.
Before the hurricane made landfall, many of the Supercharger stations those same owners would be using were also, thankfully, still online and operational.
While the move was a goodwill no-brainer for Tesla, some pundits have argued it reveals a bleak future in which corporate control, especially in times of natural disaster, is perhaps broader than it’s ever been.
“As vehicles become more advanced and reliant on software systems that can be tweaked instantly, from anywhere, owner control and access diminishes and is yielded back to the company,” pointed out Justin Westbrook at Jalopnik. “It’s more like you’re using the company’s product instead of owning it.”
What’s changed, he’s argued, is that vehicles will soon regularly have untapped potentials in terms of range or autonomy that could feasibly save lives in situations like this—but whether those potentials are unlocked won’t be up to the consumer or the government, but to a corporation.
“If a company doesn’t act, will we see it as fair, being that certain people didn’t pay for the full functionality, so it’s their fault they didn’t make it? Or will we blame the company, who now has the power of choice to ensure the safety of its customers?”