Proving yet again that there’s nothing free under the sun, Tesla announced yesterday that — starting with vehicles ordered after Jan. 1 — it would begin charging for use of its 4,625 Superchargers in 735 locations around the world after the first 400 kWh of power used annually. That would take you about 1,000 miles or so — about the distance from Times Square to Tampa, Fla.
“Since 2012, Tesla has invited its customers to plug into chargers that add 200 to 300 miles of range per hour,” Wired’s Jack Stewart explains to the uninitiated. “Good enough to top up a depleted battery in about 30 minutes, while a driver has a bathroom break and a bite to eat. They approach the convenience of pumping gas into a conventional car, and they’re free for life.”
But some folks just don’t know when to stop, Stewart intimates. “Some Tesla owners have treated the free lunch more like an all- you-can-eat buffet. It’s not unusual to see a queue of Model S and X cars waiting to get their electron fix at busy locations.”
This despite the fact that the Supercharger Network is designed to accommodate travelers on road trips — “from the Arctic Circle to the south of Spain, and across all of the population centers in China and Japan” — not homebodies looking for a free ride.
“Just as you would charge your cell phone, we believe the best way to charge your car is either at home or at work, during the hours you’re not using it,” the blog post making the announcement yesterday points out. What it doesn't say but is easy to infer: If you are jacked into a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery charged by a forthcoming Tesla-Solar City roof tile, all the better.
But drivers who have been sitting on the fence “still have some time to get in on the current always-free system,” points out Andrew Krok for CNET’s “Road Show” since the fee change won't take effect for Model S and Model X vehicles ordered before the end of the year and delivered before April 1.
“My bet? Expect to see Tesla's near-term delivery numbers spike as fence-sitters rush to take advantage, because if free Supercharger access is a must-have, then acting fast is a necessity,” Krok concludes.
Writing for Seeking Alpha, in fact, Bill Maurer thinks this is all “another gimmick to boost lagging sales.” He doesn’t own, or plan to own Tesla stock. Or a Tesla, one presumes.
BGR’s Yoni Heisler has a different take. “It was a nice program while it lasted but it’s certainly easy to sympathize with Tesla’s position here. With nearly 400,000 Tesla Model 3 reservations in the books, Tesla had no choice but to initiate some sort of economic adjustment to its Supercharger program to prevent outright chaos.”
For its part, Tesla says the price of a charge will be less than filling up with a tank of gasoline. And it will use the revenue, it says, “to reinvest in the network, accelerate its growth and bring all owners, current and future, the best Supercharging experience.”
Kind of like the experience that Texaco guy in a cap and uniform — “the best friend your car has ever had!” — used to deliver?
In other news on the rapidly evolving automotive front, the Wall Street Journal’s Tim Higgins and Rolfe Winkler report that “Zoox Inc., the secretive Silicon Valley startup working to build its own self-driving cars, has quietly raised another round of funding that puts its valuation at $1.55 billion, a big jump from just a few months prior and a sign of increased interest in automotive technology.”
The company, based in Menlo Park, Calif., was founded in 2014.
“Zoox aims to build a new car from the ground up that reimagines what automobile travel could entail if the vehicle can drive itself. The company has attracted engineers and professionals from Tesla Motors Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Apple Inc. to help in that effort,” Higgins and Winkler report.
Speaking of the olden days, there was a time when the big secrets in the industry were what colors would be available for next year’s models from the Big Three.