TECHNOLOGY

Elon Musk (Temporarily) Stops Throttling Florida Tesla Drivers’ Batteries so They Can Escape Irma

But should it ever have been there at all?

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BY Minda Zetlin - 11 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Elon Musk taketh away, and Elon Musk giveth. At least, that's how it is for some Tesla owners in Florida. After one driver requested just a little more range in order to get out of an evacuation zone, all owners of Tesla Model S60 and 60D vehicles, as well as owners of Tesla Model X 60D and X70D, have magically had their battery range extended by about 30 miles. The longer ranges will last until September 16, the company announced.

What the heck is going on here?

Tesla last year stopped manufacturing batteries with varying amounts of power for its lower-end models. Of course, "lower-end" is a relative term when it comes to a Tesla, at least until the $35,000 Model 3 becomes widely available. The cars in question start at prices ranging from $61,000 to $74,000. The numbers in their names refer to the kilowatt power of their batteries--a low end 60kw battery has a range of about 200 miles.

But because Tesla no longer actually makes 60kw batteries, what these cars actually have is a 75kw battery that's been artificially reduced by software to the range of a 60kw battery. People who buy these cars can unlock the extra battery power by paying Tesla a fee of several thousand dollars. The company will then remove the software throttling of the battery during the car's nightly update. (Owners of lower-end models can also unlock the company's popular Autopilot feature by paying extra for it.)

Some observers touted this as a brilliant move: It simplifies manufacturing, and allows Tesla to produce more cars with the same basic design. The company can offer them as some sort of alternative to the thousands of people waiting to buy a Model 3. It can also sell its cars for a bit less, tapping into the market of buyers who want a Tesla but can't afford the top models--without "cannibalizing" sales of those top models.

At the same time, it makes completely clear that there is no relationship at all between how much you pay for a car and how much it cost to produce it. If anything, the cheaper Tesla models cost more to create than the more expensive ones--after all someone had to write the code that throttles their batteries. So if the company sells them for less, it's either losing money on those cars or getting a huge profit from the more expensive ones.

Tesla has been praised and lambasted on social media and in the press, for helping out Floridians with extra power when they need it and for ever having throttled its own batteries in the first place. Which does the company deserve more? You decide.