Achievement unlocked: Tesla boosts batteries for Irma refugees

Then by September 16 those a few extra miles will go

Over the weekend Tesla began pushing a software update to certain Model S and Model X vehicles to increase battery capacity, in the hope that extended vehicle range might help customers fleeing Hurricane Irma and successive storms in Florida.

"Due to these exceptional circumstances, and to help you better prepare to evacuate and get to safety, your vehicle has been adjusted at no cost to you to temporarily access the additional battery capacity until September 16th," a message sent to one customer reads.

The Tesla Model S and Model X cars that received the update were built with 75-kWh batteries but were sold at a discount because the batteries were limited to 60 kWh.

Tesla's update removed the battery restriction, allowing affected vehicles – in the Florida area, according to a discussion of the issue on the Tesla Motors Club forum – to be charged to the full 75-kWh capacity.

Tesla owners report getting between 2.5 to 3.5 miles per kWh, so the extra capacity probably increased the range of affected vehicles by about 45 miles.

Initially, Tesla made extra battery capacity available to customers for $9,000, but has since dropped the price to $2,000.

The notification sent by Telsa indicates that the unlocked capacity will be be relocked on September 16. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Cute gimmick, but a sign of worrying things ahead

Tesla's gesture has been well-received by customers – more so than Apple's much-maligned decision to push U2's "Songs of Innocence" to iOS devices in 2014. Nonetheless, it underscores the lack of control owners of software-dependent devices actually have.

In a phone interview with The Register, Aaron Perzanowski, professor of law at Case Western Reserve University and the co-author of The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy, said Tesla made a responsible decision to help its customers.

"But it does illustrate a really important shift over who ultimately controls the devices we think of ourselves as owning," he said.

Perzanowski said he was reminded of Sonos' recent policy change to deny updates to owners of its wireless speakers if they failed to accept privacy policy changes requiring data sharing. "Features you've come to expect can be taken away or degraded not because the hardware has changed but because decisions were made about what the software can do," he said.

Tesla's update highlights the blurring of products and services. "When people buy a Tesla, I imagine they conceive of that transaction as the purchase of a product," he said. "I think Tesla is happy to allow customers to think of the transaction in those terms. But in many ways what you're signing up for is a service relationship."

The car maker's temporary benevolence toward storm-tossed customers is being echoed by other image-conscious companies. Google, for example, confirmed that it is working with gadget repair chain uBreakiFix to mend Pixel devices damaged in the vicinity of Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey. And Apple is donating money and enabling others to do so via its App Store and iTunes.

Meanwhile, the airline industry, home to innovations like seat miniaturization and unwarranted punishment, stands accused of meeting high demand for flights away from Hurricane Irma with higher prices. ®

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