Tesla Motors can be counted on to do the unexpected — just as Apple did in its Steve Jobs heyday. Looking back now, the moves seem like no-brainers and they've become standards for the industry.

Tesla hasn’t sold its Roadster model since the end of 2011, but that doesn’t mean it’s forgotten. Right after Christmas, Tesla said it would offer a “3.0 package” for existing Roadster owners, including:

  • A battery upgrade. Because lithium-ion technology has made rapid strides in three years, the new pack has cells (via Panasonic) that offer 31 percent more energy, which allows Tesla to fit a 70-kilowatt-hour pack in the same space as the old one. Ideally, this could increase the Roadster’s range to 400 miles.
  • An aerodynamics upgrade. The Roadster’s drag coefficient (Cd) is 0.36 — not bad — but the Prius’s 0.26 is much better. And the Model S, a ground-up car for Tesla, achieves 0.24. With a retrofit aerodynamics kit (presumably spoilers of some kind), the Roadster should reach 0.31.    
  • A tire upgrade. Low rolling resistance tires are great for fuel economy and increasing range on EVs. The tire swap brings a 20 percent resistance improvement. Tesla is also working on the wheel bearings and brake drag for further gains.
Tesla says:
Appointments for upgrading Roadsters will be taken this spring once the new battery pack finishes safety validation. We are confident that this will not be the last update the Roadster will receive in the many years to come.
I like the fresh thinking here, but a couple of caveats: The upgrade could be prohibitively expensive, and the Roadster may not go 400 miles after so equipped. And, yes, we have only to go as far as the hot rod phenomenon to see new motors, infotainment and safety tech installed in old iron.

You can buy “crate motor” V-8s from GM and Ford. But why not offer OEM equipment upgrades for two- and three-year old cars? I love the idea, say, of Ford telling owners of cars with glitch-prone MyFord Touch systems that they can be upgraded, for a fee, to the new SYNC3. Why not an EcoBoost engine for an old Focus?

Tesla Roadster on the road

The Roadster already had speed on its side, but a range extension is welcome. (Photo: Raneko/flickr)

Other green automakers should take advantage of this trend, offering, for example, higher-range packs (200 miles?) for first-generation Nissan Leafs or Honda Fit EVs. Why don’t they do this? My money would be on the fact that they much prefer consumers buy new cars.

But that kind of bottom-line thinking stifles innovation. My guess is that Roadster owners will be grateful that Tesla still cares about them, and they’ll be even more likely to buy one of the company’s cars next time around.

Incidentally, Tesla can’t rest on its laurels, since lots of automakers are invading its space. As I’ve reported, German automakers are particularly intent on building performance electric cars that could challenge Tesla. According to German magazine Auto Bild, Mercedes is putting $2 billion into a new brand called Ecoluxe, which will offer “a four-strong family of bespoke electric vehicles,” built around a smaller 106-inch wheelbase and a bigger one with a 118-inch wheelbase.

The vehicles will be up to 16 feet long, seat as many as seven, and pack up to 610 horsepower. With a capacity of 80,000 cars a year, the new models could hit the market by 2019.

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Tesla offers a 400-mile upgrade to Roadster owners
Is this the start of a trend in which automakers make money retrofitting older cars?