The lower-cost Tesla Model 3 will likely lose a perk of Model S and Model X ownership: free charging at Tesla’s network of Supercharger sites. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said in the past that some Teslas would not have free access to the Superchargers that can refill the batteries to 80% charge in about 45 minutes.
Since there’s no credit card reader in the current Supercharger hardware, it’s likely owners would have to set up accounts in advance. Currently, every time a Tesla connects via the charging hose, the car identifies itself to Tesla. It’s possible Tesla will uses this as a springboard to selling quick-charging to non-Teslas.Discussion of pay-to-charge for Model 3 owners kicked up a notch with the discovery this week of non-implemented code on Tesla.com citing Supercharger credits.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise
At Tesla’s annual meeting May 31, CEO Elon Musk said, “Free Supercharging fundamentally has a cost. The obvious thing to do is decouple that from the cost of the Model 3. So it will still be very cheap, and far cheaper than gasoline, to drive long-distance with the Model 3, but it will not be free long distance for life unless you purchase that package.”
So far, Tesla has not formally laid out how it would charge. It appears possible that Model 3 owners could purchase a life-of-the-vehicle Supercharger charging package, buy a fixed number of energy credits, say for 1,000 kilowatt-hours (about 15-20 fill-ups), or pay as they go. If Tesla just passes along the cost of electricity, currently about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, and if the Model 3 uses 30 kWh per 100 miles (the bigger Model S uses 33-38 kWh per 100 miles), a fill-up after 200 miles of driving would cost Tesla $7.20 at residential rates. For a midsize combustion engine car getting 30 mpg, the same 200 miles would cost $15 in gasoline at $2.25, the national average price of regular gas in late summer 2016. Even the gasoline for a 50 mpg Toyota Prius would be $9 for 200 miles.
In some states, laws there only allow established utility companies to charge for electricity, and buying pre-paid access credits to the Supercharger network might get around the problem. Regardless, with smartphone apps and Teslas that identify themselves to a Supercharger module, there’s really no need for a credit card read as long as the network is up.
Code on Tesla pages for Model 3, also Model S, Model X
Several sites including Elektrek.co this week reported on unimplemented code on the Tesla site that references a payment option to purchase Supercharger credits per kilowatt-hour block. It’s not only on the pages of the 375,000 Tesla Model 3 reservation holders but also on pages for the Model S crossover and Model X crossover. The code reads:
Save $2,500 without the “free” Supercharger network
It’s possible that when Tesla ships the first Model 3 late next year (Tesla’s slated first-ship date), it might implement the option across the Tesla line. That would be especially appealing to very-low-mileage Tesla owners and those who live in areas sparsely populated with Supercharger stations. Tesla boasts of 694 Supercharger stations today with 4,263 Superchargers. But a look at Tesla’s map shows the bulk of them on concentrated on the East and West Coasts, in the inland population centers, and cross-country along Interstates 90, 70, 40 and 20.
Early on, Tesla sold lower-capacity Model S EVs without free access to the Supercharger network and offered an Enable Supercharging option for $2,500 for the life of the car. At current rates, that’s equal to the price of more than 20,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity at residential rates. If 1 kWh drives a Tesla one-third of a mile, 20,000 kWh would carry it about 6,500 miles, making even a $2,500 upcharge a good deal – as long as you live near Superchargers.
Open Superchargers to non-Tesla EVs?
Here’s what Tesla may do over the next several years:
- Tesla could unbundle Supercharger access from the base price of all models when the Model 3 ships.
- It would offer access to Superchargers for about $2,500 per car.
- Tesla would likely sell a la carte Supercharger access to owners in blocks of, say, 100, 500 and 1,000 kilowatt hours. It could be scaled to the price of electricity in the area where the Tesla is registered.
- Since the Tesla vehicle is always connected and online, the transactions could be made from inside the car as you pull up to a Supercharger station, if you hadn’t signed up before.
- Tesla will open the Supercharger network to non-Tesla EVs.
- As more cars uses the Supercharger network, there may be attendants or concierge services (a car wash, for starters). They’d also be there to move Teslas off the charging stands if the owner is away from the car.
The Supercharger hardware would need some modifications to handle other brands, but Tesla has said that’s do-able. It’s a win for Tesla since the volume of business would enable more Superchargers stations. (It would also drive more traffic there and annoy Tesla owners if lines grow longer.)
Tesla could make money off partnerships with other automakers and might sell rights to use its connectors and charging algorithms. Some Tesla Supercharger sites are now located on state or county-owned highway rest stops and Tesla will come under pressure to make them universally accessible, so Tesla may win by doing this ahead of regulators. Either way, it eases the path for more EVs and potentially less pollution as combustion-engine cars give way to battery-electric vehicles. Big powerplants aren’t zero-pollution, but they emit less relative to burning gasoline or diesel.
Elon Musk’s newsworthy week
There are few weeks when Tesla and CEO Elon Musk aren’t in the news. Still, this was a particularly eventful week.
- The Falcon 9 rocket Musk’s SpaceX built for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook blew up while fueling on the launch pad. It was to launch an Amos-6 satellite delivering inernet access, including Facebook, to remote parts of Africa.
- When Tesla updated the Tesla Model X software, it apparently disabled some door-close sensors, and one blog posted videos of the falcon wing chopping a cucumber in half.
- The business press said there’s a cash squeeze at Tesla and SolarCity, which are being combined. The Wall Street Journal reported 15 institutional investors said no-thanks to buying SolarCity or investing equity.
- Reports circulated that Tesla will remove free access to Superchargers on some or all models (this story) when the Tesla Model 3 launches in late 2017.
- The New York Times resurrected its occasional Is-Musk-Biting-Off-More-Than-He-Chew stories and a Page 1 article Friday said all this “intensified questions about whether Mr. Musk is moving too quickly in his headlong investment in some of the biggest and most complex industries, not just space travel but carmakers and electric utilities.” The Times added that the Falcon 9 explosion is “exposing the risks of [NASA’s] growing reliance on private companies like SpaceX to carry materials and, soon, astronauts.”
On Thursday, the week’s news drove tells Tesla stock 5% and SolarCity 9%. On paper, CNBC reported, Musk’s net worth fell $350 million.