Hurricane Irma has finally weakened into a tropical storm, signifying that the worst is over for the state of Florida. Over the weekend, we saw images and video of winds and floods that have caused hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage — damage, like that caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, that will take several years to fix.
One thing that made Irma so terrifying was its size — nearly that of the state of Texas, and large enough to cover the entire state of Florida. That made evacuation difficult for a few reasons — traffic, gas shortages, and, for those with electric cars, limited range. At least for the latter, Tesla was able to help their customers a little by unlocking the full 75 kWh battery in the Model S and Model X cars, providing them with an extra 30 to 40 miles of range.
In previous years, Tesla had sold 60 and 60D models of their Model X and Model S vehicles. Those cheaper options had full 75 kWh batteries, but only 60 kWh available to use — the additional 15 kWh could be unlocked with a software upgrade that currently costs $2,000 for the Model S and $4,500 for the Model X.
While those software-locked models are no longer sold, there are plenty on the road whose owners haven’t paid for the upgrade, and a handful of them live in Florida. Seeing Irma coming, Tesla did them a solid at the last minute. The automaker pushed that update to those cars in Florida for free before Saturday morning, giving them those 30 or 40 extra miles to help them evacuate. Combined with the good number of Tesla Supercharger stations in Florida (and the lack of a need to worry about the status of those Superchargers in the runup to the hurricane, in contrast to the gas shortages), the update probably helped more than a few Tesla owners get to safety more easily over the weekend.
Tesla will roll back the upgrade on September 16, which will presumably be after those owners are able to return to their homes. That’s probably a good move, too — the extra range is nice, but those owners do have reason not to want the upgrade permanently, cost aside. Locking the full capacity of the battery prevents overcharging, which is the primary cause of battery degradation over time.