Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running - June 2015Enlarge Photo
Musk weighs in
Four hours after my long-awaited and much-savored first local Supercharging session, there came a cosmic coincidence I’m still trying to wrap my brain around.
Elon Musk walked onto a stage at the annual Tesla shareholders meeting and unceremoniously peed on my parade.
In answer to a shareholder’s question about Supercharging, Musk maintained that the Supercharger promise is “free long-distance travel forever,” not free charging forever. He implied that’s always been the case.
“There are a few people who are quite aggressively using it for local Supercharging,” he said.
“We will sort of send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do it occasionally, but that it’s meant to be a long-distance thing.”
My first reaction: It’s a little creepy that Tesla is monitoring our charging habits so closely. It’s the downside, I guess, of Tesla’s uncanny ability to remotely detect problems in the car before the owner even knows about them.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013Enlarge Photo
My second reaction: Elon is rewriting history.
Consider the following three Q and A excerpts from Tesla’s website:
How much does it cost to use the Supercharger?
Supercharging is free for the life of Model S, once the Supercharger option is enabled.
Will it always be free?
Yes, Superchargers will be free to use for Supercharging-enabled vehicles for the life of Model S.
How often can I Supercharge?
Customers are free to use the network as much as they like.
Let’s repeat that one: “Customers are free to use the network as much as they like.” No mention anywhere of of “long-distance travel only.”
Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, Route 66 Museum, Elk City, Oklahoma [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
My third reaction: Would an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant tell a hungry teen-age football player that the buffet is meant for people with normal appetites, and that it’s cool to go back for seconds occasionally, but not all the time--and certainly not thirds?
Little old ladies vs football players
When a restaurant (or a car company) sets its pricing, it takes into account all kinds of users. For every hungry teenager who ravages the buffet, there’s a little old lady who eats like a bird.
For every local Supercharger user—and there are very few of us lucky and/or nutty enough to fall into this category—there’s a Model S owner who never Supercharges.
And of course Supercharging isn't really 'free.'
Until recently, Supercharging was a $2,000 option for low-end versions of the Model S. (Supercharger hardware is built into every car; the $2000 premium was simply a fee to enable the software.)
For those models with Supercharging standard, we can assume that something close to $2,000 is baked into the base price.
In effect, we’ve all prepaid $2,000 for the ability to Supercharge.
Tesla Supercharger network U.S. coverage - March 2015Enlarge Photo
Using typical Model S energy-consumption figures of 325 Wh/mile and average electric rates of 11 cents/kWh, the electricity cost of running a Model S works out to about 3.5 cents per mile.
In effect, Model S owners with Supercharging capability have prepaid for 57,000 miles of Supercharged driving, on average.
Of the 43,000 miles currently on my odometer, I’m guessing about 10,000 have been Supercharged. The way I see it, then, it’s cool for me to Supercharge another 47,000 miles or so, long distance or not.
But I’m waiting for my reminder note from Tesla laying out the company’s side of the issue in more detail.
Let the debate begin.