With at least a dozen 2012 Tesla Model S all-electric sport sedans now in the hands of buyers--and, Tesla says, 5,000 more to follow by the end of the year--attention is likely to turn to the car's real-world range.

The high-end Model S that makes up the bulk of early production is rated by the EPA at 265 miles of electric range, with lower-range models to start production by the end of the year, Tesla says.

Reports will start to filter in from early Model S owners that should offer some sense of whether the EPA number is optimistic, pessimistic, or about on target.

As for recharging, though, the 85-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack of the highest-range Model S would take 12 hours or more to recharge fully using a conventional 240-Volt, Level 2 charging station.

Tesla, it says, has a better idea.

The company offers various Model S trim levels with one or two 10-kilowatt onboard chargers.

If both are specified, the car can charge three times as fast as a Ford Focus Electric or any other plug-in electric car with a 6.6-kilowatt charger using the Tesla-supplied home charging station.

Tesla has also designed its own, unique charging connector for the Model S, although the car also comes with an adapter cord to allow owners to recharge at public charging stations--all of which use the round connector known as the J-1772 (after its SAE standard number).

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

The Tesla connector is designed to handle up to 20 kW of Level 2 alternating current and 90 kW of level 3 DC quick-charging through the same plug.

For trips beyond, say, 250 miles, the next step is the much-discussed Tesla "SuperCharger," the company's own, unique quick-charging station.

Tesla chief technology officer J.B. Straubel says the SuperCharger will operate at up to 90 kW and 440 Volts, allowing even the highest-range Model S to get close to a full recharge in just an hour.

Straubel told Automotive News recently that Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] will unveil the SuperCharger technology in less than a year.

He also noted that he likes "range per hour" as a metric by which to judge the usefulness of electric-car charging stations.

Last fall, the company said it planned to roll out its first network of SuperCharger stations between San Francisco and Los Angeles--a trip it feels many of its owners would like to make in their new electric cars.

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

The company thinks relatively few owners will use the network.

“Very few people will ever charge outside of their homes,” said a Tesla engineer at last fall's Model S beta press event. “With even the smallest battery pack providing a 160 mile range most owners won’t need to use a public charging station.”

We suspect that at least some Tesla Model S owners will want to push their cars to their range limits and see how far they can travel purely on electricity.

But whether you believe that or not, the unveiling of the SuperCharger technology next spring (perhaps earlier) promises to be an interesting test of whether Tesla can create its own technology ecosystem, as Apple has done.

Stay tuned for more from Tesla.


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