Tesla says that it can upgrade its first and now-discontinued model, the Roadster, to drive 400 miles on a single charge—the longest operating range yet for the company’s all-electric vehicles. But there are only about 2,500 vehicles in existence that can receive the upgrade.
The extended range comes from a combination of improved battery technology since the Roadster’s introduction in 2008, improved aerodynamics and lower-friction tires. The company says it will drive a retrofitted model from San Francisco to Los Angeles to demonstrate the new technology in early 2015, and Roadster owners will be able to make appointments to receive the upgrade in the spring. There is no word yet on how much the update will cost.
The original Roadster could travel 245 miles on a single charge, while Tesla’s current Model S has a range of 265 miles. The average US driver drove about 30 miles per day in 2009, according to a US government study (pdf), but “range anxiety” is often seen as a problem faced by companies marketing all-electric vehicles.
The company has yet to reveal the range of the SUV-style Model X, which begins deliveries next year, or still forthcoming Model 3, expected to be a more affordable option than the Model S, which starts at $71,070 before incentives. Tesla’s announcement stresses that no upgrades to the Model S are expected soon, and CEO Elon Musk deleted a tweet that reportedly promised the upgrade to its existing models “obviously *will* happen long-term.”
With such limited application for now, this development is best seen as a proof-of-concept and a reward for the company’s earliest customers. It’s also a bit of a physical twist on the Silicon Valley style of releasing upgrades for earlier versions of software—for today’s cars, patches go beyond fixing tires.