During Tesla's (NASDAQ:TSLA) annual shareholder meeting earlier this year, CEO Elon Musk promised "a fairly exciting upgrade to the Roadster." On Friday, Tesla finally revealed what Musk was referring to: an upgrade that can boost the Roadster's all-electric range from 245 miles to around 400 miles.
Roadster to get supercharged
The Roadster was Tesla's first vehicle. Launched in 2008, the sporty two-seater was purposed for proof of concept. Tesla wanted to show that a fully-electric car can be built that is actually desirable. Since the Roadster, Tesla's work on its 2012-launched four-door Model S has led to a number of important lessons and technological improvements. And now, the California-based automaker is ready to take some of this knowledge and capability to its first vehicle.
"We have long been excited to apply our learning back to our first vehicle, and are thrilled to do just that with the prototype Roadster 3.0 package," Tesla said in a blog post on Friday detailing its plans for the Roadster upgrade.
The improvements will come in three key areas: batteries, aerodynamics, and rolling resistance. Improvements achieved in lithium ion battery technology since 2008 means Tesla can deliver about 70 kilowatt-hours in the same package as the original 53 kWh battery. Further, modern computational methods for aerodynamics have enabled a 15% improvement to the Roadster's drag coefficient with a retrofit aero kit. Finally, rolling resistance will be improved by about 20%, with more efficient tires and improvements in the wheel bearings and residual brake drag.
Altogether, these upgrades will push the Roadster 3.0's range 40% to 50% further than the original Roadster.
"There is a set of speeds and driving conditions where we can confidently drive the Roadster 3.0 over 400 miles," the blog post read. "We will be demonstrating this in the real world during a non-stop drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the early weeks of 2015."
Given that Tesla said that range "over 400 miles" will only be achieved with "a set of speeds and driving conditions," it's likely that the rated range after the Roadster 3.0 battery, aerodynamics, and rolling resistance retrofit will be sub-400 miles. Exact details of the retrofit, along with pricing, are still unknown.
A key insight about Tesla's product plans
Tesla's plans to upgrade its roadster highlight a key insight about how the company may do business in the future.
The most interesting item of all from the details on Roadster 3.0 had nothing to do with the update itself. The golden nugget was found at the end of the post when Tesla said it is "confident that this will not be the last update the Roadster will receive in the many years to come." This approach of offering major upgrades to an old product -- especially one the company is no longer selling -- is not typical of the auto industry.
And based on a tweet from Musk on Twitter, it looks like Tesla will be using a similar approach for its Model S.
Should mention that a battery pack upgrade is not coming soon for the Model S, but it obviously *will* happen long-term.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 26, 2014
Is this a preview of what the future of electric cars could look like? Will cars actually have the capability of improving over time by purchasing new technology that swaps out the old? Pair swappable batteries with Tesla's over-the-air updates and motors that both inspire the world's best warranty and can be swapped out with far less hassle than internal combustion engines, and it's looking like Tesla's vehicle guts could potentially outlast the body.
Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.