Tesla’s Software Innovations Help It To Lead The Charge

NOV 24 2018 BY EVANNEX 36


Everyone knows that Tesla is an innovative company, and almost everyone knows that its cars don’t need gasoline. But as Lou Steinberg points out in a recent article entitled Some of the Greatest Innovations are not What You Think, electrification is not Tesla’s only innovation, and when it comes to competing in the global auto market, it may not even be the most important.

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris. The opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs.

Above: Tesla’s center stack touchscreen display in the Model S (Image: Tesla

In Steinberg’s view, Tesla’s most important innovations stem from the fact that it’s the first company to approach cars the Silicon Valley way: as a software problem. Steinberg perceived the power of “tin wrapped software” as the CTO of Symbol Technologies. “Symbol built hardware, but was able to use software to tune how it worked in different environments. Flexible software meant that the hardware behaved one way in a hospital (long battery life for a 12-hour shift) and another way in a retail store (higher power radios to overcome dead zones).”

“I bought the Model S because it was the first time I had ever seen someone treat a car as a software problem,” Steinberg writes. Sure, modern cars are full of software, but their builders are hardware companies, and automotive hardware is a mature market with few opportunities to disrupt, or even to differentiate their products.

Tesla has changed everything – for the first time, a car can improve itself over time via software upgrades. “Aside from navigation maps, all of my cars [he has owned many] had features that were largely fixed on the day they left the factory,” says Steinberg. “Not my Tesla. Every month, it gets software updates that make it better. It learned how to park. Then it learned how to do it better.  It opens my garage door when I come home. It improved its self-driving. It improved the stereo. It added anti-theft features. After one year, my car is safer and better to drive than the day I bought it. My Tesla driving experience keeps improving through patches and updates.”

Above: Tesla owner describes why he loves the car’s software updates: “It’s the feeling that your car is always new.” (Youtube: Tesla)

Steinberg vows never again to buy “a car whose capabilities are frozen in time,” and once they’ve experienced the ever-improving Tesla ownership experience, most drivers probably feel the same.

Another important but overlooked innovation that the Sages of Silicon Valley have made is to free up constrained resources. The Tesla Rangers – mobile teams that perform minor service at customer locations – provide an example. Why are the Rangers such an innovation? Because they free up resources at service centers. “The most constrained real estate at a service center is in the service bays,” Steinberg writes. “You can hire more technicians if demand increases, but the service bays are a big capital investment that can’t be flexed up and down. The second most valuable real estate at a showroom is in the parking lot. You can fill it with cars to sell, but only if you don’t have a lot of cars you already sold taking up space while waiting for a service bay to become available. Cars waiting for service, especially warranty service, crowd out cars that are ready to be sold and delivered. Add to this the fact that many owners will ask for a loaner car, and you need a fleet of loaners. It all costs money.”

Thus, the Tesla Rangers represent not just a convenience for customers (though they certainly are that), but also “a way to optimize constrained resources and save capital. It frees up the parking lots to sell and deliver cars.”

And the third and greatest innovation of all? Tesla isn’t selling just cars. There’s a saying in the software business: “People don’t buy software, they buy a roadmap.” In other words, customers, especially large companies, don’t buy software based only on what it can do today, but based on their confidence that it will continue to get better and keep up with future needs. Once you conceive of a car as software, the capabilities you can offer to customers are almost unlimited.

Above: Tesla uses the phone as a “key” for the Model 3 (Image: Tesla)

“Tesla isn’t limited to promoting the current features,” writes Steinberg. “Tesla and Musk are either lauded for offering vision or panned for over-promising, but they offer a glimpse of what your car will be able to do in the future. Not another car you have to purchase again…the very same car you buy today. My car knows how to park, and will someday have full autonomous driving. Why shouldn’t it drop me off in front of the store and then find a parking space on its own?”

Many stock market observers believe that the high valuation of TSLA stock has a lot to do with investors’ belief that the company will someday offer full self-driving capability, an innovation that could have even greater implications for mobility and society than electrification. And it’s not just the stock price. A Mercedes or a BMW is a great automobile, but once you buy it, it’s going to be the same vehicle you bought until the day you sell it. If instead, you could have a machine that’s going to get better and better, and eventually be able to drive itself, how much more would you be willing to pay?

“By treating cars as software, and constantly pushing updates, Tesla can command a premium price today by selling the roadmap,” concludes Steinberg. “Other manufacturers may innovate incrementally, but as the character ‘bored Elon Musk’ once tweeted, ‘Incremental innovation is really just adjusting for inflation.’”


Written by: Charles Morris; Source: Authoriti

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers, free of charge. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX. Check out the site here.

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36 Comments on "Tesla’s Software Innovations Help It To Lead The Charge"

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Ironically this is why the German manufacturers are afraid of producing electric cars. It’s not the hardware, it’s the whole package and the fear of producing clearly inferior products.
These companies need to transform everything and they doubt their capability to reinvent.

True, and the software is a bit more complicated than having it figure out when it’s being tested for emissions compliance, and then to only turn on anti-pollution devices at that point, otherwise, turn them off.
Simple if A then B; else C.

The Germans almost mastered that bit of software, until somebody got curious and couldn’t figure out how that it’s impossible.

Just talk with german car-engineers then you know why it takes 5-6 years to bring a car in production. Tests and re-tests and re-re-re-tests, till it seems to be perfect. Then they produce the car and have huge callbacks (like every other carmaker). With software it gets far more complicated. Software is never perfect and everybody knows it, so how to deal with it?

Not sure this is the primary reason. German manufacturers won’t embrace EV over miss-placed religion, as much as cost. Software isn’t the top reason. Even more false is how Silicon Valley has taken to peppering the car buyer universe, with “Updates are great”, just as Tesla gimps barely two year old cars, and its neighbor, Apple, tries covering its tracks from battery throttling. Silicon Valley accelerated “forced obsolescence”, not Germany. If anyone wants to extol the virtues of Version 9, like maybe Steinberg, I’d be happy to stick around and contrast, so we can all evaluate the direction things went. Guessin’ this won’t happen.

As the down votes come, consider more fresh threads still starting up with Tesla refusing its customers right to retain the controls they purchased. Elon isn’t so fond of Electrek, anymore, and has sent his minions, and retweets, toward Inside EVs. I’m happy for IEV about that, but not delusional about what these stories are ultimately about. It’s coming to cars. https://teslamotorsclub.com/tmc/threads/back-to-square-one.135654/

I’m only downvoting this because the Tesla software updates are free and your comments make it sound like Tesla is the one forcing you to buy a new car for tiny improvements when it’s actually their competitors who have completely invested in the concept of model years and obsolescence.

Also, if Tesla isn’t letting you use outdated software, it isn’t to take your money. You shouldn’t be using outdated software. It’s a security and safety risk. That applies generally to computer software, but in this case, the car literally drives itself and version 9 is better at it.

Competitors obsolesce cars by making improvements to newer ones, not degrading the ones they’ve sold. They don’t change the controls in ways that leave many with the opinion things are worse. I have both V8 and V9, and am perhaps more convicted about V9 being worse, because I can simply hop back into the V8 car if there is any doubt.

I don’t understand how taking away features, like selective top/bottom web/nav/media/energy, or not looking at a map, or why having quick access to a fixed top tool bar for web/phone/nav/media/camera is a security risk? That doesn’t make sense. My safety is less secure, the further and longer my eyes go away from the road.

I was talking about the autopilot software. The stuff you listed sounds like minor UI quirks, not a conspiracy.

With limited real estate on the screen (and limited firepower in the MCU), you can’t have everything. I have no issues with V9. But you can certainly make the argument that change in a UI is a distraction and I would agree with that.
Software needs to be consistent across the platform in this paradigm. And Tesla has learned that there will be some losers with change. Vocal losers. That being said, sell the car and buy a car that won’t degrade on you. Oh right – there is nothing else even close. Darn. Then your option is to be angry or get over it. It isn’t like V8 is coming back.

“Competitors obsolesce cars by making improvements to newer ones, not degrading the ones they’ve sold.”

You seem to be implying that Tesla is degrading its older cars in an effort to pressure buyers to buy a newer Tesla car. This is nothing but FÜD, pure and simple.

The only time Tesla has ever degraded any of its software was when they lost their contract with Mobileye and had to create their own version of what Mobileye did for Autopilot. It took them quite a while to do that, but it certainly wasn’t any evil plot on Tesla’s part to try to force owners of older Tesla cars to upgrade them. In fact, I’ve seen it argued that this made the older cars preferable for a time.

Pjwood1, you seem to have confused Elon Musk with Dr. Evil.


pjwood1 said:
“Elon isn’t so fond of Electrek, anymore, and has sent his minions, and retweets, toward Inside EVs.”

Nah. Elon dumped Electrek for CleanTechnica and its a$$-kissing, rabid Tesla fanboi editor. Apparently, InsideEVs was runner up. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.


Vladimir Putin thanks you for that divisive, hateful comment.

I enjoy CleanTechnica’s positive coverage of technologies which point to a better future, such as Tesla’s cars. Now, why don’t you take your anti-EV trolling to some place that might appreciate it, such as a forum for rolling coal?

It does toss the traditional view of cars topsy-turvy, as traditional cars get worse over time, not better..
Of course some classic cars rise in value, though they are few and far between.

Body panel gaps cannot be fixed by software

Ah, the old dated ‘body panel’ comment..

You are absolutely right, but the crappy software VW, BMW and Daimler use for their cars, also can’t be fixed. It is just to crappy AND you have to bring the car to your stealership! Ridiculous!

I was just notified of a safety recall on my 2013 Chevy Volt having to do with the software that controls battery balancing. It’s a shame I have to take it to the dealer for the work since the car does have wireless connectivity and could have been done over the air if it was set up for over the air updates from the start.

I had a VW Passat that had power windows that i swear had a ghost working it,Iwould have preferred “PANEL GAPS” to wide open windows in the middle of winter, oh it also had the worst electrics ,and now they are going EVs? Hhuuummmm.

And your anti-Tesla FÜD attitude cannot be fixed by exposure to the Truth, either.

It’s a car company. Not a software company. Then Ford Motor company is a credit company

Yeah, looks like Ford is mostly a truck company.

Tesla is a heck of a lot of companies. Solar, energy storage, vehicles, charging infrastructure. They even make their own microchips and write their own operating systems. Hard to say what kind of a company Tesla is any more, but they do a lot of software.

This is the biggest reason i’m interested in Tesla cars. With every car i bought, i have been annoyed that after just 1-3 years the system is already outdated and i would prefer to get a new one. But not even for money the new systems are compatible.

Which is likely why none of the old manufacturers wanted to keep their old cars up to date. It’s much better for them to sell a new car.

But thanks to Tesla they will need to adapt.

VW has realized this and is trying to build up a business model around software and cloud services now. But it will take years for them to get it to a good state. Will be interesting to see what they can put together until then. If it sucks, i’ll wait a few years longer for the compact car from Tesla. (Model 3 is too big for me. I prefer compact cars in the city.)

What do you mean? That Tesla sold (or is might even still selling) Bananaware? When I did my first Model S test drive here, only parts of the GUI were localized for Germany, although it was already officially sold here for roughly 2 years…
That people bought Teslas with “Full Self Driving” and some time later that option disappeared and Musk said like “You need a 5k$ upgrade” if you want Full Self Driving?
Is the Dashcam available for old Teslas?
Or that the battery in BMW i3 and Renault Zoe can be upgraded to the new technology that was available for later produced ones? Is it possible to upgrade a 60kWh Model S to 100kWh? (without buying new motor etc.).


Tesla cars are constantly getting new features through software updates. Alot of them sound great. And i already love software updates on Smartphones.

My cars never got any new features through software updates. Not even for money. That’s what i mean.

I would gladly give up german localization for that.
But i would never pay that much for Full Self Driving. Until it’s finally useful i’ll likely be on my next car already… But it’s optional.

It’s great that you can upgrade the battery of these cars you mentioned. But it’s only needed because their capacity is too small to begin with. I would never buy a car with a battery that is too small for my use case.

“That people bought Teslas with ‘Full Self Driving’ and some time later that option disappeared and Musk said like ‘You need a 5k$ upgrade’ if you want Full Self Driving?”

I think you’re confused on this issue, Notting.

I’m certainly not going to defend Tesla selling FSD, an option that wasn’t functional and wasn’t ever going to be with the hardware installed, but you seem to be implying that Tesla now says you need another $5k upgrade on top of the $5k that people already paid in advance for FSD, and that’s simply not true.

The software and hardware are not always on the same timeframe for Tesla. You can only go so far with software improvements until you need better hardware. The earliest Ses cannot have autopilot because they don’t have the hardware, and it’s deemed not cost-effective to try to retrofit such an extensive set of sensors, wiring, computing power, etc. (if it’s even possible at all).

Current Teslas will eventually be not as good as future Teslas due to hardware limitations. That’s inevitable.

I love my Model 3 and now that winter is coming, I’m hoping for a software update that automatically controls the seat heaters as my Chevy Volt Gen 1 does.

The original article talks about other cars not getting any software updates except possibly maps. He’s right, but it’s actually worse than that — getting the maps updated is chargeable, and is so expensive that it’s simply not worth it. We took our Citroen in for its first annual service a few years ago, and asked about get the maps upgraded; we were quoted a price that was so high that we simply walked out and went and bought a Garmin stand-alone unit instead for a fifth of the price. And that unit has much better software, and map updates for life. The Citroen dealer was actually surprised that we even bothered to ask; apparently nobody ever bothers to upgrade the maps in a built-in satnav unit because of the costs and hassle involved. They didn’t even know the price up-front; it took them two days to find out. I walked away from that feeling kinda embarrassed on behalf of the dealer that his supplier (ie the car company) was missing such an obvious opportunity to make a few extra pennies. But that’s the trouble; they didn’t actually want those few extra pennies because they have no interest in keeping… Read more »

Did the tactile controls on your Citroen loose their feel, move to the right and down, and disappear unless you punched up a sub-menu? You mean YOU MISSED THAT UPDATE? Dude, get with the program.

Cars are not about software. Cars are about excellent ride, silence, performance, reliability, luxury, comfort, space, practicality, … Software is just there to help.
Tesla software greatness is autopilot and over the air upgrades mostly. The level of complexity and features that others makers can include in their cars is way bigger. Comparing an Audi A8 with any Tesla shows the difference.
While there are plus points in Tesla approach, there’s also constant problems with software updates, poorly tested cars, low reliability… and long time where cars can’t be driven.

Reliability studies haven’t been great for Tesla, I don’t know if they exist but I would like to see a study about amount of time cars can’t be driven – break downs, waiting for parts, bugs, … between different cars, I suspect Tesla leads the pack among the cars spending more time in a non driveability state.

In my opinion cars are not software, that is a dangerous way of looking at the problem.

(I’m a software engineer)

Tesla owners have the most satisfaction and ” YES WOULD BUY AGAIN” replies , and that includes any of your vaunted German brands. If you are really a software engineer go help your favorite German auto co., Audi /VAG as they sure needed to perfect the Diesel Software. LOL LOL

“long time where cars can’t be driven” – are you referring to the 1 hour in the middle of the night (user selectable) when the software is updated? Seems like a stretch.
“The level of complexity and features that other makers” – ok. Sure the Audi has some fancy gee-whiz features. Does it have GPS enabled homelink? That was added on a software update. GPS enabled air suspension where the car remember where to raise the car – your driveway, speed bumps at school etc. Their app seems familiar looking – and came out years later than Tesla. Does it preheat and pre cool?
But hey – now Audi can use the phone as a key. That is pretty 2015 in Tesla land – pretty sure that is when we got driving by phone – by software update.
The new Audi A8 is a really good example of Tesla copying. Perhaps with some better things, but certainly most of it its features look really familiar. Even Summon looks really similar – and probably better. But either way really familiar.
Audi A8 – even promises autonomous driving…. sometime in the future.

Thank you, sir!

It amazes me that so many articles about Tesla’s cars miss what truly makes them preferable to any other car made, for so many people. It’s how everything about the driver/user controls the car is so well integrated, and works so intuitively, both hardware and software, including how the software is integrated with the hardware. The saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” applies to Tesla’s cars possibly more than anything else in the entire world.

Tesla’s software isn’t some stand-alone thing; it’s part of the gestalt which makes Tesla’s cars so popular, so much in demand.

Nobody is buying Tesla software, nor does Tesla sell any stand-alone software. People are buying Tesla cars which contain Tesla software.

That’s a decidedly non-trivial difference.

(I’m a former computer programmer.)

Great article. I won’t consider buying anything other than a computer if it’s powered by Microsoft anymore Years ago I had a smartphone with Windows on it, got one update in the three years I owned it. I switched to Android and am happy with a regular stream of (stable) updates. I now have a 2013 Ford Escape with Microsoft Sync, which, while a good feature, again has never received an update. One of my key decision factors for my next vehicle will be the Operating System, but unless it’s a Tesla, I don’t see any cars in my price range making the innovative upgrades in actual driveability features that Tesla does. And not requiring a visit to the dealer for an upgrade – priceless!

Sync is awesome – I’m still on the 1st generation (2010 Mariner Hybrid), and the voice-recognition for controlling an attached iPod, or calling people from my address book of my iPhone, or streaming audio via BlueTooth from my iPhone… it’s very, very impressive.

I have owned many cars: ICE, EV from legacy automakers and Tesla.

For Tesla, it appears that the company “owns” the software and improvements are done for free.

For all other car companies, the dealers made sure to let me know that I “own” the software and am responsible for any issue with it (except for warranty items and recalls). If I bring my car in for a software issue I have to pay a diagnostic fee upfront which usually runs over a hundred bucks. “Repair” costs are extra. Sometimes they don’t even have a fix – case in point, my previous Ford Focus EV had a problem with the MyFord Mobile App but no one at the dealer was able to help even for a cost. Calling Ford didn’t yield any result other than “reinstall the app” BS. I sold it for a Model 3.