Nobody really expects an automaker to continuously improve a model years after it came out, but maybe we should. Tesla Motors once again raised the bar of customer expectations when Elon Musk announced a “nearly” 400-mile battery pack upgrade for the out-of-production Tesla Roadster. Welcome to the age of upgradeable cars.
Think about the paradigm shift this presents within the auto industry, which has a prerogative to sell as many new cars as it can. Once a new model comes out, the old model is almost always universally derided by the press, who subsequently heap praise in the new model which makes improvements on the outgoing vehicle. Oftentimes these improvements are small, incremental changes that do make for a better vehicle, but don’t really justify trading in an older model. The 2015 Honda Fit is a perfect example; it is in almost every way a superior car to the 2014 model…but the 2014 Fit is still a great car. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could get the new Earth Dreams engine in the older model? Sure, you could do it on your own, but you’d void any warranty on the rest of the car in the process, and there are still compatability problems to deal with.
With electric cars though, easy and regular upgrades are a definite possibility, and Tesla is once again leading the way. Despite being out of production since 2011, Tesla is saying to Roadster owners “We remember your loyalty” by offering this upgrade, and at the same time the automaker is demonstrating what other buyers can come to expect. Swapping an old battery for a new one will certainly ease fears of reduced range with age, and it means that as the years go on, Tesla owners can expect their cars to actually improve with age…and it doesn’t have to be limited to batteries either.
Motors, controllers, and other electric car components are a lot easier to swap in and out than a conventional combustion engine. Most Model S owners who had to have battery or motor replacements usually got their cars back within 24 hours, and the soon-to-open battery swapping station in California can change an old battery for a fresh one in just three minutes. Most conventional cars take a week’s worth of work to remove and install a new drivetrain, but in literally just minutes you could nearly double your driving range, and for a fraction of the cost of buying a new car; remember you’re also trading in the still-valuable old battery. Granted, this doesn’t upgrade the interior, the suspension, or many other components of the Roadster, but Tesla has already demonstrated its ability to upgrade and improve the Model S via over-the-air software updates that help it avoid potholes and plot a better driving route.
Of course offering upgrades to old cars isn’t purely an altruistic endeavor, but rather an extremely savvy business move. Here’s a way to both improve customer relations with past buyers, and introduce another potential revenue stream to Tesla’s business model as well. It’s not unlike the rise of “downloadable content” in the video game industry, which has companies rolling out regular updates and improvement to products years after the initial debut. It requires much less expenditure of resources to create, but keeps drawing milk from the cow even if that cow has no interest in your new products. Musk has already hinted that a similar battery upgrade is in the works for the Tesla Model S, which will further feed the need for new battery packs, thus keeping the under-construction Gigafactory busy. It has been said time and again that Tesla is more about selling batteries than cars, and with the potential EVs have for upgrades, that is looking more and more true.
Introducing the world to the concept of endlessly upgradable cars is a great way to kick off the new year, and a true paradigm shift in the way the auto industry operates. It’s also a huge advantage for electric vehicle advocates. When’s the last time a major automaker offered an upgrade for an out-of-production vehicle? Once again, Tesla stands alone in showing the world a better way to build cars and sell cars.