Tesla Roadster 3.0 Shows How EVs Can Be Upgraded

By · December 29, 2014

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster

Electric car battery technology is getting better every year. When combined with incremental improvements in electric propulsion systems and vehicle packaging, we should expect the driving range in future all-electric models to significantly increase. But what about the EVs already on the road? Will these improvements diminish the value of the battery-powered vehicle currently in your driveway?

Enter Tesla Motors, with its announcement last week that for a price (to be determined), owners of the Tesla Roadster all-electric coupe can upgrade the model from a car with a nominal range of 245 miles—to one with close to 400 miles. At face value, the news will only affect about 2,500 cars. That’s the number of Roadsters that Tesla made and sold.

But the deeper significance is the concept of an EV battery upgrade.

This is not the battery-swap on the run that was championed by now-defunct Better Place (and others) as a means for a roadside pit stop—to quickly regain a battery full of juice. Instead, this is the idea that the total amount of energy stored, and therefore the range of any existing model, could get a 40 to 50 percent bump down the road. That’s the level of upgrade that Tesla is promising in the future for the Roadster. It’s the equivalent of a jump from a 56 kilowatt-hour pack to one that can hold 70 kWh.

The gain comes not only from better battery cells/chemistry, but improvements from a retro aerodynamic kit to reduce drag by 15 percent, and lower resistance tires that represent a 20 percent improvement in efficiency. In the coming weeks, Tesla will test and demonstrate the Roadster 3.0 in a real world non-stop drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

In a blog post right after Christmas, Tesla’s Alexis Georgeson wrote, “This will not be the last update the Roadster will receive in the many years to come.” Tesla has repeatedly shown the ability to innovate—to demonstrate the ways that electric cars offer unprecedented opportunities to improve the driving and ownership experience.

If an upgrade of the Roadster is possible, then the same range-enhancing battery-upgrade strategy could be applied to the Nissan LEAF and other electric cars. Tesla was the first carmaker to offer consumers the option of putting battery packs of various sizes in a new model. There are rumors that future versions of the Nissan LEAF will also come with a choice of battery sizes.

Without a price tag on Roadster 3.0, we don’t yet have a sense of the economics of the upgrade offer—or how it might impact the market for used Roadsters and other EVs. But with hundreds of thousands of aging battery-powered cars already on the road—and the number of electric car sales increasing every year—the concept of breathing new life into older models is arriving just in time.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.