How will Tesla end range anxiety?

March 16, 2015, 5:56 PM UTC
Automobiles On Display At The Auto Mobil International Show
A Tesla Model S automobile, manufactured by Tesla Motors Inc., stands connected to an electrical charger at the Auto Mobil International (AMI) automotive trade fair, at Leipziger Messe in Leipzig, Germany, on Friday, May 30, 2014. Car sales in Germany, Europe's largest market at about one-quarter of deliveries, fell 3.6 percent in April, while Italy's gain was just 1.9 percent. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photo by Bloomberg—Getty Images

Tesla Motors has used its embedded wireless Internet connection to solve a nagging problem for car owners: depreciation. Now it plans to use it to overcome range anxiety, one of the biggest obstacles preventing widespread adoption of electric cars.

The Palo Alto-based electric car company (TSLA) has completed numerous over-the-air software upgrades to the Model S since the tech-centric vehicle was first released in 2012 to fix bugs, enhance safety features, performance and customize the driving experience. In short, the car gets better over time.

Until now, these upgrades haven’t made any marked improvements in the battery, which already has the longest range of any electric cars on the road today. On Thursday, Tesla will announce an over-the-air upgrade that will solve range anxiety for good, according to a cryptic tweet from the company’s CEO and largest shareholder Elon Musk.

What could this solution be? It could be as simple as better alerts that more accurately tell drivers how much charge they have left and where they can “refuel,” said John Gartner, director at Navigant Research.

Or, it could be more meaningful changes. For example, Tesla might have figured out a way to access more of the battery capacity and allow for a greater depth of discharging, Gartner said. The algorithm between the electric motor and battery could have been improved to provide better fuel economy or the battery might be able to charge more quickly, he added.

“These are all improvements that are possible by software upgrades,” Gartner said.

Last September, Tesla wirelessly upgraded the software in the Model S and added a number of features, including a location-based air suspension that remembers potholes and steep driveways and automatically adjusts to avoid them.

Other features added to Model S sedans through a wireless software upgrade, include traffic-based navigation that takes into account data shared by other Tesla vehicles on the road, a calendar that syncs with a driver’s smartphone, remote start, power management, and ability to “name” your car.

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