Tesla Letter To Rein In Local Supercharger Use Goes Wrong


Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running - June 2015

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running - June 2015

Last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a change in Tesla’s Supercharging philosophy.

Instead of “free forever” (the phrase the company has used since the beginning), Musk said the Supercharger promise is now “free long-distance travel forever”  

Superchargers, the free ultrafast Tesla-only DC chargers spaced along Interstate highways,  weren’t meant to be used for local driving by lucky owners who happen to live near one, said Musk.

DON'T MISS: Tesla's Contradictory Messages: Is Supercharging Unlimited, Or Not?

 “There are a few people who are quite aggressively using it for local Supercharging,” he said last month.

“We’ll 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”

Gentle, but misdirected

The reminder notes began hitting the inboxes of some Models S owners last week—and the reaction has not been good.

Letter from Tesla Motors to Model S owner regarding local Supercharger usage, August 2015

Letter from Tesla Motors to Model S owner regarding local Supercharger usage, August 2015

In five days, the Tesla Motor Club forum had accumulated more than 600 posts about the Tesla letter, most of them negative

That’s mostly because the algorithm Tesla used to identify the alleged Supercharger abusers seems to have gone badly awry.

The message itself is upbeat and friendly, starting off with a paean to the convenience of home charging.

CHECK OUT: Tesla Model S Battery Life: How Much Range Loss For Electric Car Over Time?

But then came the sentence that has annoyed a number of its recipients: “As a frequent user of local Superchargers, we ask that you decrease your local Supercharging and promptly move your Model S once charging is complete”

Syntactical flaws aside, the sentence seems to be far off target.

Many of its recipients, it turns out, don’t live anywhere near a Supercharger. And some of those who do use them sparingly.

Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015

Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015

"Insulting and annoying"

Jeff Southern, a Model S owner in Atlanta who got the reminder note, says he’s used the Atlanta Supercharger a grand total of four times in the 18 months he’s owned the car.

"Quite frankly, I found the letter a bit insulting,” he told me.

An alleged Supercharger hog in Tucson says the nearest one is 70 miles away, and he uses it only sporadically on long trips in that direction.

In a posting on the Tesla Motor Club website, he called the letter insulting and annoying.

Tesla Supercharger network, North American coverage - March 2015

Tesla Supercharger network, North American coverage - March 2015

Another in Seattle said his nearest Supercharger was 50 miles away and he’d used it three times in 9,000 miles.

“Doesn’t seem like abuse,” he posted. “It is a little disturbing”

“I have used my local Supercharger exactly once,” posted another Model S owner who got the reminder note. “So, yes, I took offense at the wording.”

Missing the target

Ironically, I did not get a letter. And if anybody could be accused of being a Supercharger hog, it might be me. 

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, under construction - June 2015

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, under construction - June 2015

Two months ago, Tesla Motors installed a Supercharger in Newburgh, New York, only 8 miles away, at my favorite restaurant.

Since then, I have charged there often—especially if I happen to be driving by around lunch or dinner time.

RELATED: Life With Tesla Model S: Local Supercharger Joys & Frustrations

Does that make me a Supercharger abuser? The way I see it, I paid $2,000 for the right to Supercharge.

And I've repeatedly been assured over the past three years that—to quote from the Tesla website— “Customers are free to use the Supercharger network as much as they like.”

Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015

Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015

Financial motive?

One thing I’ve wondered: What is Tesla’s motive for trying to reduce Supercharger usage?

Is it simply because the company doesn’t want to pay for the additional electricity?

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running - June 2015

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running - June 2015

I hope that’s not the case.

Customers have paid up front for the privilege of “free forever” charging, and have been promised exactly that since the very beginning, even before more than a handful of Supercharger sites existed.

Backpedaling on that promise now, just to save money, would be simply unethical.

it would also be a worrisome reflection on the company’s financial footing.

I’m not sure I’d buy stock in a company that needs cash so badly that it retreats from customer promises just to add a few bucks to the quarterly bottom line.

Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

My guess, however, is that Tesla’s main goal is to reduce congestion at busy Superchargers. 

In my experience—visits to 50-odd Superchargers all over the country—congestion is not currently a problem. (Only once have I ever had to wait my turn—and that wait was less than five minutes.)

But congestion will grow along with the Model S population—now above 75,000—let alone a wave of Model X electric SUVs that are supposed to start arriving by the end of the year.

And it could soar very rapidly beyond that when up to half a million Model 3s a year start hitting the road, theoretically in 2018. 

If Tesla’s motivation is to reduce congestion, then I’m down with that.

Solar panels at Supercharger in Barstow, CA, during Tesla Model S road trip [photo: David Noland]

Solar panels at Supercharger in Barstow, CA, during Tesla Model S road trip [photo: David Noland]

In fact, I’d go a step further than Tesla’s reminder note, which pleads that local Supercharger users “promptly move your Model S once charging is complete” 

In my view, if all charging slots are full when a transient car shows up, any local Supercharger should immediately unplug and cede his slot.

No cross-country traveler should ever have to wait for a local to finish charging.

When I charge in Newburgh, I’m typically the only car there. But on the rare occasion when only one or two slots are open after I plug in, I stay with the car, or get a table at the restaurant with a clear view of the Superchargers.

That way, if a transient Model S appears with all slots full, I can immediately get up, unplug, and give him my charging slot.

If that’s Tesla’s goal—to inculcate transient-car Supercharger priority into Tesla culture—then I heartily concur.

Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, Route 66 Museum, Elk City, Oklahoma [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, Route 66 Museum, Elk City, Oklahoma [photo: David Noland]

I just object to their method.

Don’t call out a select group of alleged local Supercharger users—in many cases wildly misidentified—and urge them to cut back on local charging, regardless of circumstances.

Instead, send a letter to every Model S owner that might run something like this: 

Dear Model S Owner,

If you choose to Supercharge locally—a right you’ve paid for and we’ve promised since the beginning—please give priority to transient cars. 

If there are two or fewer spots available after you plug in, keep an eye on your car and be prepared to unplug and cede your spot immediate to any transient Model S, whose owner needs an immediate recharge more than you do.

Thanks for showing common courtesy, and for doing things the Tesla Way.

Love, Tesla Motors

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