If your car magically grew a larger gas tank before you had to evacuate a hurricane zone, that would be pretty great, right? Well, that's what happened for a bunch of
owners in Florida.
In order to help Floridian Tesla owners escape Hurricane Irma, the automaker briefly unlocked that extra range via an over-the-air update. According to the New York Times, Tesla made this decision after a single owner requested additional range for evacuation purposes.
The boost wasn't a huge amount -- only about 40 miles of additional range -- but when you're trying to get away from a hurricane, stopping to charge a car isn't exactly ideal.
Owners of 60-kWh and 70-kWh Tesla vehicles technically have 75 kWh at their disposal, which they can pay to unlock at a later time. This allowed Tesla to sell a base model for about $6,000 less than an equivalent 75-kWh car, and if owners later wanted to upgrade for whatever reason, it was as simple as throwing a small pile of cash in Telsa's direction.
While it might seem counterintuitive that an electric car with its limited range and somewhat-long charging times could be an ideal evacuation vehicle, it's not necessarily a bad choice, per se. Given the millions of evacuees making their way north on Florida highways, gas stations were running dry in a hurry. But since the hurricane had yet to make landfall, the electrical grid wasn't having issues supplying juice to EV owners.
Many without an enthusiastic interest in the auto industry learned of Tesla's expandable range through this story, and many were concerned about letting an automaker control something like a vehicle's overall range. But this wasn't some secret, hidden thing -- almost as soon as the sub-75-kWh vehicles hit the road, it was reported back in May that Tesla was artificially limiting range in order to present owners with a lower base price. Not everyone needs that much range, and even as the cars push toward $70,000, its buyers are still price conscious.
It should be noted that Tesla no longer offers batteries with an artificial cap. The least expensive Model S and Model X now contains the 75-kWh battery, in order to further delineate those vehicles from the lower-range (and lower-cost) Model 3. The Model 3 has two different batteries on offer, but they are actually physically different.
Tesla was not the only company to offer a bit of welfare for Irma evacuees. A number of airlines capped their prices on outbound flights, and Delta even sent one of its massive Boeing 747s down there to grab as many folks as possible. Airbnb hosts were offering housing for free, and wireless carriers were waiving data overage charges.