According to CEO Elon Musk, who announced the expanded network and other improvements in a media conference call, Tesla owners will be able to choose from hundreds of stations and thousands of charging ports by 2015, and to drive all the way from Los Angeles to New York, using only the company's Supercharger network, by the end of 2013. Ultimately, the company plans to cover 98 percent of the population within the U.S. and Canada by 2015.
The supercharger announcement, already postponed by the company's announcement that it had paid off all of its Department of Energy loan, delivers detail to a long-anticipated series of tips and hints about a massive expansion of the network.
Not just new regions, but route options
The expansion won't just reach new regions of the country, but it will increase the density of stations on well-traveled routes. Tesla plans to reduce the distance between Supercharger stations to just 80 to 100 miles, and there will be some redundancy in options between stations.
Musk said he also doesn't want owners to get locked into using a single route. So for instance in California owners would eventually be able to take U.S. 101 or California 1 instead of I-5. “I think we'll probably end up doing more than what's shown here in 2015,” he added.
This summer, the company will add chargers in the Pacific Northwest, Florida, Colorado, and Illinois, along with new stations in the Northeast (stretching south to Virginia). Then this fall, new stations in Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest will open up the possibility of long-distance travel in that region, while many more stations will fill in the gap between Virginia and Florida. By the end of the year, the company plans to open a cross-country passage mostly via I-80, through Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Minnesota, allowing that LA to New York road trip.
Vancouver to San Diego, or Montreal to Miami, are a couple of other possibilities that Tesla mentions as possible with the new network.
With the pacing of a normal road trip
With the Supercharger stations in place, owners will be able to drive for three hours, then stop for a 20-minute break before heading back out, noted Musk, who summed: “Essentially...it allows them to stop for the normal amount of time they'd stop on a road trip”
Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars
Tesla currently offers a Model S with an 85-kWh battery, EPA-rated at a 265-mile range, while the 60-kWh model is rated at 208 miles. Those ranges may be considerably lower in cold weather or at fast Interstate highway speeds, however.
With the expanded locations (more than 200 in all by the end of 2015), each charging station will have more ports than Tesla's earlier stations, and the automaker will continue to add ports to its existing stations. For instance, Harris Ranch in California, one of the most popular charging stations, and a waypoint between LA and San Francisco, originally had one port but now has ten.
Musk estimated the number of total charging ports available to vehicles, by the end of 2015, to be in the vicinity of 2,000 to 3,000. The company will also be adding more spaces in which to queue during busy times.
Better Supercharging, too
Tesla also announced an important upgrade in the Supercharger technology itself. By increasing the maximum charge rate from 90 kW to 120 kW, and adjusting the charge algorithm so that it no longer rapidly tapers off as early in the charge process, the company will be able to charge batteries to well above the current half-charge after the same 20 minutes.
Musk noted that the Supercharger improvement is still in 'beta,' but it will be rolled out within three months.
The supercharging is free for life, at supercharging stations. “So it's possible to drive anywhere in the country, leave your wallet behind, pack lunch, and stay with friends—and not spend a dollar, which I think is pretty cool,” added Musk.
Musk hinted that the company will have another important announcement on June 20.
See Tesla's Supercharger info page for an interactive map on where superchargers will be and when.