Earlier this week I made some guesses about what Elon Musk and Tesla had in store to "end range anxiety" with a software update. I thought that maybe the company would give its customers access to the battery reserves that are usually not used (to prolong battery life) when they're in a bad spot.
Turns out, my guess was not correct. Instead, Tesla announced new smart navigation features that they say "ensure you never unintentionally run out of range, giving you peace of mind at all times".
"Ending range anxiety"The first new feature is called Range Assurance. The application "is always running quietly in the background even when navigation is not in use." It communicates with the network of Tesla Superchargers and destination chargers, discarding any that are in heavy use or inactive and warns you before you drive out of range. "The navigation system then shows a map of the most convenient charging locations and guides you to the closest one. Moreover, it factors in height changes, like having to climb over a mountain pass, and looks up weather and windspeed from the Internet to determine range with extreme accuracy." This means that to run out of electrons, you basically have to not listen to your EV.
And since Tesla has been building a lot of new Supercharger stations and giving regular wall chargers (like those that Tesla owners can put in their garages) to hotels and restaurants, which they call 'destination chargers', most of North America is covered by some type of charger and over the next 12 months, all of Europe and North America (excluding northern Alaska) will be covered, as well as China (apart from low population areas far inland), the Japan main islands and southern Australia.
The second new feature is called Trip Planner. It's basically a navigation system, like any GPS, that uses the features of range assurance (realtime contact with Superchargers, taking into account elevation, weather, etc). "The software then figures out the fastest and most convenient path to your destination, including how long to stop at each location. As soon as your car is ready to go, it will message you via the Tesla phone app."
UI Overhaul in 7.0Musk also mentioned that version 7.0 of the Model S software will have a complete user interface overhaul. All these updates... This thing is starting to sound more like an iPhone rather than a traditional car... And it's becoming clear why, according to Morgan Stanley, 60% of Tesla employees are working on software while the average car maker only has about 2% of employees writing code.
New safety featuresThe 6.2 software update also has new safety features:
-"Automatic Emergency Braking", which will engage in the event of an unavoidable collision in order to reduce risk of impact
-"Blind Spot Warning" alerts you when drivers behind you are dangerously close
-"Side Collision Warning" (front collision warning is already enabled)
Really interesting to think that a car could get safer over time from software updates. Again, this reminds me of a smartphone more than a traditional car.
How much driving range is enough?During the Q&A portion of the call about this announcement, Musk made some good points about how much range is enough for an EV. He said that in the longest range version of the Model S, which is the 85D, you can drive 280 miles. If you're going 85 MPH, which is quite fast (especially as an average), you'd be driving for over 3 hours. If you're going at typical city speeds of around 25 MPH, you'd be driving for over 10 hours. And mix of the two might result in 5-6 hours.
So adding more range wouldn't make that much of a different because very few people will drive for 5-6 hours straight without stopping. And if you're stopping, the EV can bring you to a Supercharger station and while you stretch your legs, go to the bathroom, get a bite to eat, a coffee, whatever, you can get enough charge for the next leg of the trip.
So in theory, an electric car with 1,000 miles of range might not be driven that differently from one that has 250 miles of range just because most people take breaks from driving. In fact, forcing people to take more breaks might actually improve road safety since tired drivers who have been sitting all day are probably higher risks.
Musk also said that he thinks 200 miles of real-world driving is a minimum for an EV, and that people want maybe 20-30% more than that just to be safe. He thinks the ideal is probably between 250-350 miles. This probably means that the mass-market Model 3 will probably have at least 200-250 miles of range, even with the lower price tag.
Is this truly the end of range anxiety?I have to admit, we're getting pretty close to the end of rational range anxiety. There are now so many chargers of all kinds all around that you really have to make an effort to end up somewhere where it's impossible to get some juice.
Irrational range anxiety will probably continue a while longer, and I suspect that the real cure for those late adopters who are suspicious of all new things is simple for more EVs to be on the road for longer. Once everybody clearly sees that people don't run out of range and can take longer trips when they need to, this worry will fade away.