Tesla Unlocks Extra Range for Irma Evacuees: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

As Hurricane Irma headed toward Florida, thousands of people evacuated. Electric car owners were no exception, and some Tesla owners received an unexpected boon: a software update that unlocked the full range of battery power available on their vehicles, giving owners additional mileage in order to flee the coming storm. But Tesla’s actions also drew the eye, and the ire, of the internet community. It all started in 2016, when Tesla released a line of vehicles equipped with 75 kilowatt-hour battery packs. Customers had the option to purchase cars with a software cap which limited the amount of battery available to 60-70 kilowatt-hours of power. This reduced the mileage range of the cars, but it also reduced the price by up to $9,500. In the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, some Tesla owners worried about the impact of reduced battery availability on their evacuation plans. They contacted Tesla, which pushed through an over-the-air software update, temporarily unlocking the remaining battery power, for free, for Tesla owners in evacuation zones – allowing their cars to go farther on a single charge. With Irma bearing down on Florida, most people would agree that Tesla did the right thing by removing power caps. The flip side is that Tesla’s good deed put the spotlight on its use of paywalls to disable functionality of features already built-in to their cars, raising fears of future private sector extortion over our transportation system in times of crisis. Tesla, after all, has no common-law duty to act, and could easily charge desperate customers a fee for this service. But – importantly – they didn’t. Many...