On Thursday, electric-car marker Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) will "end range anxiety" with an over-the-air software update, CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter Sunday morning. The update, he said, will affect the entire Model S fleet.
Range anxiety, or the fear of running out of charge in an electric vehicle and getting stranded on the side of the road, is a problem Tesla has been addressing viciously since the launch of Model S. So far, Tesla's weapons against range anxiety have mostly been limited to the car's 208-plus-mile range itself and a rapidly expanding charging network, but Musk's tweet this weekend suggests Tesla has something new up its sleeve.
How Tesla is addressing range anxiety
Tesla's approach to building fully electric vehicles with a range of 208 miles or more is perhaps the most important facet of the company's efforts to minimize worries related to range. With the Model S capable of the longest range, able to drive 270 miles on one charge, Tesla makes it easy for owners to get by most days only charging at home. This confines worries about range to longer trips beyond typical daily driving.
To enable long-distance travel in the Model S, Tesla has been rapidly rolling out its network of Superchargers. Earlier this month, the company announced it has now installed 2,000 Superchargers worldwide, located at about 400 Supercharger stations. The stations span across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Tesla's reported 400 locations are up fourfold from the 100 stations it had in April 2014. At the beginning of 2015, Tesla said its Supercharger network in the U.S. had locations within 150 miles of 80% of the U.S. population.
Beyond Superchargers, which can charge the Model S to 50% in about 20 minutes and 80% in 40 minutes, Tesla's Destination Charging network attempts to fill the gaps by providing slower charging at destinations where owners may stay for longer periods of time, e.g. hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers. Tesla told The Motley Fool in January that it was adding new Destination Charging locations daily, and a Tesla spokesperson has confirmed that this rate of expansion persists today.
What new approach will Tesla take to minimizing range anxiety on Thursday? It's not clear yet. International Business Times asserts that it has been "tipped" that the update will include "changes to how the car harvests energy through regenerative braking." But investors should take rumors like this with a grain of salt.
Given the boldness of Musk's tweet, Model S owners may be hoping for an actual increase in the battery's range, perhaps through improved energy conservation. Speculation ranges from the aforementioned upgrade to regenerative braking, to tweaks to the motor's efficiency, to an adjustment to battery management algorithms -- or all of these factors combined.
But it's also possible that the update could be as simple as integrating databases of other charging stations beyond Supercharger locations into the onboard GPS. While a small percentage of Tesla owners who didn't purchase Tesla's "tech package" don't currently have the ability to use onboard GPS navigation, this feature could easily be retrofitted with a software update.
Furthermore, there's speculation in Tesla's forums that the company could make Supercharging free for all Model S vehicles. While Supercharging is included free for customers with an 85-kilowatt-hour battery, purchasers of the 60 kWh Model S have to pay $2,000 at delivery for Supercharging, or $2,500 after delivery.
Chances are, the update will not just affect one single factor, but provide a range of improvements attempting to minimize anxiety associated with range.
Tune in to Tesla's press conference Thursday at noon ET to get the facts.
Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool recommends and 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.