Tesla Owner Files Lawsuit Claiming the Automaker Reduced the Battery Power of the Model S

Tesla Owner Files Lawsuit Claiming the Automaker Reduced the Battery Power of the Model S

Author: FutureCar Staff    

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A Tesla owner has filed a lawsuit against the electric vehicle maker, claiming the company limited the battery range of older vehicles, including his own Model S, via a over-the-air software update to avoid a costly recall to fix what plaintiffs allege are defective batteries.

As reported by Reuters, the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Northern California federal court alleges fraud and seeks class action status for the potentially "thousands" of such Model S and X owners around the world who have seen the range of their older-generation batteries suddenly reduced as much as 40 miles (64 km).

"Under the guise of ‘safety' and increasing the ‘longevity' of the batteries of the Class Vehicles, Tesla fraudulently manipulated its software with the intent to avoid its duties and legal obligations to customers to fix, repair, or replace the batteries of the Class Vehicles, all of which Tesla knew were defective, yet failed to inform its customers of the defects," wrote the lawsuit.

Plaintiff David Rasmussen's 2014 Model S85 lost battery capacity equivalent to about 8kWh but was told by Tesla the degradation was normal, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit points to a recent spate of Tesla battery fires, and claims that instead of informing its customers about a potential fire risk, the company "chose to go behind the backs of its customers and use software updates and throttling of the battery to avoid liability."

The software update was designed to keep the batteries cooler to prevent possible overheating.

A Tesla spokesperson said the company's priority was to deliver the best possible customer experience with the highest regard for safety.

"A very small percentage of owners of older Model S and Model X vehicles may have noticed a small reduction in range when charging to a maximum state of charge following a software update designed to improve battery longevity," Tesla said.

Tesla added that it was working to mitigate the impact on range for affected owners and "have been rolling out over-the-air updates to address this issue since last week."

The issue first came to light in May after a Model S caught fire in Hong Kong, Tesla said that out of an overabundance of caution it was revising charge and thermal management settings on Model S and X vehicles via an over-the-air software update. 

The goal was "to help further protect the battery and improve battery longevity," it said. In June, it said it planned to improve the impact of the software update after some owners complained that it lowered the range of their vehicles.


A Tesla Model S P100D badge denotes the available power of the battery pack.

Battery Options for the Model S

All Tesla Model S vehicles have the same battery pack installed when the vehicle is built. Tesla's Model S variants are derived from the output of the battery, which is determined by the vehicle's software. 

Since its introduction, the Model S lineup throughout the years included the P60, P70, P75, P85, P90 and P100. The P60 for example, has a 60kWh traction battery to power the electric motors with a range of around 210 miles. For comparison, The Model S P90 has 90kWh of available battery power and a range of 294 miles. 

In April 2017, Tesla announced it was discontinuing the Model S P60. For P60 owners, Tesla offered an OTA software to increase the available battery power to that of the P75 Model S. Tesla even went as far as replacing the vehicle's badging to to P75 to reflect the changes.

Last month, Tesla streamlined its Model S configurations and now offers just two options, Long Range or Performance.

Some Tesla owners bought more expensive models because they offered longer range. They say Tesla took this benefit away with the software update, thereby devaluing the car, limiting the distance they can travel and forcing them to recharge more frequently.

Some owners who have seen their cars no longer able to charge to 100% have sought redress through arbitration, while at least three have sold their cars, according to forum posts. Others have disabled their vehicle's Wi-Fi to avoid any software updates that could adversely affect range.

In May, Tesla said its vehicles were 10 times less likely to experience a fire than a gas car. It said that in its investigation of the Hong Kong fire, it found that only a few battery modules were affected and the majority of the battery pack was undamaged.

One owner, Nick Smith of Orlando, Florida, said in an interview he has been frustrated by poor customer service by Tesla, with sluggish response to his calls and emails and being kept in the dark over the true root of the problem and what will be done to remedy it.

"It's as if you take your car to the shop and you have a 20 gallon tank but now you have a 10 gallon tank without your knowledge or permission," Smith said in an interview.

Smith's 2013 Model S P85 will no longer charge past 90% following the software update. Tesla told him the loss was due to normal regular battery degradation, he said.

The batteries in question carry an eight-year warranty.

FutureCar Staff
FutureCar Staff
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