AFP-Jiji WASHINGTON (AFP-Jiji) — Electric carmaker Tesla helped its owners fleeing the path of Hurricane Irma, offering a complementary boost to the car battery’s range to allow them to travel further before needing to recharge.
The goodwill gesture was a publicity boost for the Silicon Valley firm, but the ability to remotely access its customers’ cars also drew some attention.
As millions of Floridians were ordered to evacuate, Tesla offered free software upgrades increasing battery capacity on the Model X, Model S and SUV to 75 kWh from 60 kWh.
That extended the driving range by 48 kilometers to 370 kilometers.
A company spokesperson on Monday confirmed the news. Tesla made the decision to offer the range boost after one Florida owner asked for the upgrade during the evacuation.
The upgrade, which normally costs $4,500 to $9,000 depending on the model, is only temporary for Irma evacuees and will expire on Sept. 16.
But it also highlighted how drivers remain in automakers’ hands, long after they have driven off the sales lot.
Auto blog Jalopnik said Tesla’s move was “praiseworthy and appropriate” but also illustrated “a terrifying prospect of our automotive future.”
Jalopnik reporter Justin Westbrook speculated about a possible “worst-case scenario where a company or corporation becomes a critical decision maker in disaster scenarios,” such as favoring richer car owners in a future evacuation.
Auto analysts contacted by AFP recognized automakers’ growing power over drivers, but did not share the more extreme fears.