By Nicolas Zart
Tesla is removing performance-limiting software from its Model S and Model X. You didn’t know about the software at all? If not, you’re not the only one, but I’ll update you.
More importantly, though, has Tesla solved the overheating issues that restrict power output?
And does this mean we can finally race a Model S on a track?
Tesla Removes its Performance-Limiting Software
Before you inundate Tesla Motors with questions, note that this specific software limits the power output according to how many times it considers you have full-open-throttle accelerated the Model S and X. The ramifications and implications are many for Tesla and the automotive industry at large, which has been suffering from ethical business decisions.
As of now and according to Tesla’s President of Global Sales and Service, Jon McNeil, from our friends at Teslarati, the performance-limiting software will be removed from the Model S and Model X via the usual over-the-air software update.
The story erupted on the Tesla Motors Club (TMC) forum in recent weeks, where McNeil admitted the company was limiting the performance of some of its Model S and Model X in order to protect them from excessive wear and tear. Fair enough, but it wasn’t clear if the wear and tear are part of the rolling stock or the thermal management system of the battery and controller.
One of the reasons the Model S hasn’t been raced successfully so far is you can only use its full power for the first lap or so. Things drastically change in the second lap. The battery and controllers heat up. The car deliberately lowers its performance output, eventually to a crawl. We witnessed this clearly a few years ago when Steve Saleen was developing his own version of a performance Model S, the Four Sixteen, which we covered here. The racing restrictions were the overheating of the components and battery pack. Steve assured us he overcame that restriction eventually. Our initial test drives around an undisclosed California race track were convincing for a start.
However, racing is one thing. Buying a $135,000 performance car for its impressive numbers only to have it throttle back in an undisclosed way is quite another.
Tesla Community Members Up In Arms
Members of Tesla community didn’t react well to this performance-limiting software infringement on the Model S’s stated performance. A few threads on the company’s forum highlighted that the overuse of Tesla’s Launch Mode feature throttles back the Ludicrous Model S’s performance. But the issue got worse when P85D and P85 owners, post Ludicrousmode, reported the same problem on their Model S, which were not Ludicrous. It eventually culminated when other owners reported the same restrictions in Launch and Max Power modes.
What was brought to light eventually was that Tesla used an algorithm that counted how many times the cars were driven with open throttle without stating it. It would then throttle back performance, sometimes reducing the overall horsepower by as much as 100 HP. Since the claimed performance of the Model S and X wasn’t met over and over and was highlighted on Tesla’s forum, the company discreetly added a disclaimer to its online Design Studio confirming the limiting software. Tesla wasn’t upfront and took a lot of heat from some of its owners. This is something the company can’t afford to do. Here’s why:
Tesla is very adept at making its client handle marketing, while other carmakers rely on huge budgets. What can it do when it gets caught with numbers that don’t match the claimed performance?
Unlike other carmakers that spend millions of dollars on a monthly base, Tesla doesn’t officially have a marketing department, in the traditional automotive sense. Handling negative publicity is crucial. Tesla owners are notoriously technically savvy and bleeding-edge adopters. It doesn’t take much for them to realize numbers and performance don’t add up. Selling these people a product that doesn’t work as advertised is extremely dangerous. Undisclosed performance-limiting software is a mistake that Tesla must avoid at all costs, considering the scandals VW and other carmakers are currently facing. While not technically the same issue, stating one thing and acting contrary in an undisclosed way is a slippery slope. Rightfully, Tesla kept the performance-limiting software story internal and away from the news.
But what about racing? Does that mean we can now race a Model S? Not so fast. The car is still throttled back it heats up around a race track. It’s understandable. Tesla didn’t design your car for racing. We’ll have to wait for the Electric GT (EGT) Championship series to tackle that.
The moral questions are more along the lines of what if you purchase a certified pre-owned Performance Model S or X? Does it mean you will be even more throttled than buying a brand new one? Are you going to be “paying for” the consequences of the previous driver when the company sells you a used car?
Consequences and Conclusion
These are serious learning lessons for Tesla. After the VW diesel scandal, carmakers know they can’t withhold information and claim the contrary. This hinders on federal crime laws and no one wants to go that route, especially the financially fragile Tesla Motors company.
It takes an entire society to accept de facto norms imposed on it. It only takes a few vocal people to stop and sometimes reverse the process. Case in this point, thanks to Tech_Guy in the Tesla owners community, McNeil was forced to acknowledge the performance limiting software by writing:
“Based on your input, we have decided to remove all software performance reductions tied to frequent max power usage. These changes will roll out with our next software update (in about three weeks).
We had put these reductions in place to proactively protect the powertrain from wear and tear. Instead, we will monitor the condition of the powertrain and let our customers know if service is needed so that we can take proactive steps, such as by replacing parts if necessary, to maintain the vehicle’s performance.“
The conclusion is simple, bordering simplistic. Ethics are mostly interpretations based on a solid bedrock. Our political world in shamble only reflects our society subconscious and acts as a shadow self. Tesla is the darling of the EV community. It can’t afford to say one thing and hinder performance. This is something the automotive industry at large is learning the hard way.