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Why Tesla Was Right to Extend Its Cars’ Battery Life During Irma

It all started with a single request from a Florida resident—and Tesla owner—preparing to evacuate as Hurricane Irma barreled towards the state. The Tesla Model S 60 owner asked if the automaker would “unlock” the battery capacity of his electric car to get the extra range to hasten the trip.

The owner knew what the non-Tesla owning world is just learning: the automaker once produced Model S and Model X sport-utility vehicles with 75 kilowatt-hour battery packs and used software to limit the energy—and in turn, the battery range—to 60 or 70 kwh. It was a strategy that allowed Tesla (TSLA) to sell a more affordable version of the Model S and X, and gave customers the choice to buy only as much battery capacity as they needed. Owners of these vehicles can unlock that extra battery power at any time by paying for an upgrade through their MyTesla account.

Tesla vehicles charge at a Tesla Supercharger station on the Qualcomm campus in San Diego
Tesla used software updates to extend the battery range of its cars in Florida, raising eyebrows from some critics.Mike Blake — Reuters
Mike Blake — Reuters

Tesla not only compiled, the Palo Alto, Calif.,-based automaker decided to remotely upgrade the battery of every Model S 60 and Model X 60 sport-utility vehicle registered in Florida that was equipped with a larger 75 kwh battery pack. Most owners learned about the temporary bonus when they started their vehicles.

A tech-centric blueprint established in Tesla’s early years is what gave the automaker the power to even offer such a bonus. Wireless software updates are a cornerstone to Tesla’s business. The company regularly uses these over-the-air software updates to fix bugs, improve performance, and add special features to its growing fleet of Model S, X, and Model 3 electric vehicles. This time, it was used to help people get out of Hurricane Irma’s way.

A version of this article appears in the Oct. 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “Tesla’s Good Deed Sparks a (Misplaced) Backlash.”