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2021 What Car? Technology Award winner - Tesla’s over-the-air updates

The best innovation in car technology makes cars safer and easier to drive. We reveal why Tesla takes the top prize...

The What Car? Technology Award 2021, chosen in partnership with Thatcham Research, has been won by Tesla for its over-the-air software updates. They enable older cars to be wirelessly updated with the latest upgrades and features, with no need for them to be taken to dealerships. 

This type of updating is done by a handful of other car makers, too, but Tesla was the first to introduce it and, in 2020, used it to make 15 safety upgrades to the Model 3 executive car in 2020, as well as numerous improvements to comfort, convenience and entertainment systems. 

Tesla Model 3 Thatcham

The upgrades include a notification that tells you when you’ve left your car door unlocked and the ability to set a PIN to keep the contents of your glovebox secure. However, it’s the improvements in active safety technology to existing cars that impressed our judges. 

These enable Tesla’s Autopilot system to slow the car down as it approaches a roundabout and to stop the car to prevent it from going through a red traffic light. 

In addition, the Model 3 is now able to show its driver more road markings, helping them be more aware of their surroundings, and it enables them to set a cruise control speed by simply tapping an icon on the infotainment screen. 

Owners can even allow Tesla to view footage from inside the car during an accident. Its experts will analyse this and use their findings to developing new safety technology.

Tesla Model S Long Range front

The improvements in active safety technology are striking. When Thatcham Research, which conducts crash testing in the UK on behalf of Euro NCAP, tested the Model S luxury car’s active safety assistance features in 2014 it lagged behind rivals by some margin. However, the latest versions of both the Model S and Model 3 are the benchmarks for those same tests. Indeed, the Model 3 scored 94% in the driver assistance category in 2019 – a full 14% more than the next best car.

Matthew Avery, director of research with Thatcham, commented: “A Tesla can be upgraded as it sits on a driveway. As a result, the vehicle is, to some degree, state-of-the-art over its lifetime, which is a phenomenal advantage, especially when it comes to improving the performance of its safety systems.”

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Next: Read about more Car of the Year 2021 winners >>