Tesla: Now there's no excuse for running out of juice

Willie Grace | 3/19/2015, 8 p.m.
The Model S can already drive roughly 270 miles on a single charge, depending the size of the battery pack. ...
A spokesperson says the talks were "casual."

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Elon Musk is trying to make it "virtually impossible" for anyone driving a Model S to run out of power.

The Tesla CEO announced Thursday a number of improvements that aim to make the electric car more appealing to potential buyers worried about getting stuck when their battery pack runs dry.

The Model S can already drive roughly 270 miles on a single charge, depending the size of the battery pack. Musk announced a software update that won't extend that battery range, but it will warn drivers when they're going too far from a Tesla charger.

The improved navigation system will also plan routes taking into account available charging stations. To improve accuracy, the software will even factor in hills and winds that might reduce the car's actual driving range.

Tesla also announced that it is building out its network of superchargers at a faster pace. There are currently about 400 supercharging stations located throughout the U.S. that can recharge a Model S in about 30-45 minutes.

Tesla says about 90% of the U.S. population is within 175 miles of a supercharger. Now Musk wants to fill in that last 10%

The new software update will also give the cars the ability to brake automatically if the car's camera and radar sense an object stopped in front of the car. Other car makers already have this kind of feature, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has cited as important for crash prevention. For instance, auto-braking systems reduce rear-end collisions by 14%, according to the Institute.

The new software, which will download automatically while the car is parked, will also include a number of other smaller improvements.

Tesla issues these updates after a car has been sold, and they download automatically over mobile networks. By doing that, Tesla is effectively turning on its head the car industry's century-old model of making customers buy a new car to get the latest technology.

"It almost feels like driving a new car," Musk said of the latest update.

The company is already working on the next version of the car's software. That will include "active steering" functionality that will operate on the highway and, at low speeds, on private property. In tests, Tesla drivers have been able to drive hands-free from San Francisco to Seattle. Cars will also be able to pull themselves out of parking spaces and garages when summoned by drivers, according to Musk.

Teslas are already equipped with sensors and computers capable of doing automatic steering and braking, Musk said, so now Tesla is gradually "waking the cars up" and allowing them to use these capabilities as the software is ready.

The next update should be available in about three to four months, Musk said.

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