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Charging for more driving range that's already there? Tesla moves one step closer to charging customers to unlock software-locked range in US-made Model Y SUVs

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Would you pay for driving range? (Image: Tom White)
Would you pay for driving range? (Image: Tom White)

This week in the United States, Tesla rejigged its Model Y line-up dropping the Standard Range rear-wheel drive and replacing it with a Long Range RWD for US$44,490. 

The more interesting development, though, came from CEO Elon Musk who posted the following on X, the social media platform formally known as Twitter.

"The '260 mile' range Model Ys built over the past several months actually have more range that can be unlocked for $1500 to $2000 (gains 40 to 60 miles of range), depending on which battery cells you have."

Exciting on the surface, with the ability for existing Model Y owners to increase roving range of their vehicles for a relatively small fee. Elon admitted that unlocking extra range was still subject to regulatory approvals in the United States.  

But the idea that Tesla might have been fitting the Model Y Long Range’s circa-75kWh NCM battery pack to the entry model Standard Range for several months without telling anyone – and will be charging for the privilege to unlock the potential – has not gone down so well.

In August 2023, Electrek unearthed the phenomenon of software-locked range in Model X and Model 3 base models. In the sedan’s case, Tesla was charging US$10,000 more for the Long Range model despite using the same battery pack as the standard range. 

Software-locked range could become more prevalent. (Image: Tom White)
Software-locked range could become more prevalent. (Image: Tom White)

At least this time the Model Y is now being advertised as an upgraded Long Range Model, despite the fact its battery size increase was rolled out several months earlier. 

There’s a reason for software locking range. Not using every kilowatt hour available generally leads to improved battery life. It’s one of the reasons Toyota’s bZ4X has a much larger difference in gross and usable battery size than many less conservative rivals. 

The choice to limit charging when you don’t need all the range, or top up to 100 per cent for longer drives is what other manufacturers including BYD and MG currently offer. 

CarsGuide contacted Tesla Australia about whether software-locked ranges are in plans for local models. This article will be updated if the brand responds. 

The Australian Model Y line-up remains unchanged for now with the base RWD still fitted with a circa-57.5kWh LFP battery. This is consistent with Tesla’s offerings in China, where Model Ys for the Australian market are built. The United States constructs its own Teslas. 

This doesn’t mean we won’t see abrupt changes soon, however. The reason for using one bigger battery pack in all models may come down to simplified production – something Tesla has been at the forefront of by minising parts per car using ‘Giga pressing’. 

Tesla has recently announced a pivot away from developing a low-cost smaller EV citing profitability concerns. Software-locked range, power and driver assistance features may prove more profitable in the long-term for the brand.

John Law
Deputy News Editor
Born in Sydney’s Inner West, John wasn’t treated to the usual suite of Aussie-built family cars growing up, with his parents choosing quirky (often chevroned) French motors that shaped his love of cars. The call of motoring journalism was too strong to deny and in 2019 John kickstarted his career at Chasing Cars. A move to WhichCar and Wheels magazine exposed him to a different side of the industry and the glossy pages of physical magazines. John is back on the digital side of things at CarsGuide, where he’s taken up a role as Deputy News Editor spinning yarns about the latest happenings in the automotive industry. When he isn’t working, John can be found tooling around in either his 2002 Renault Clio Sport 172 or 1983 Alfasud Gold Cloverleaf.  
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