Last week, I was in a bit of a Tesla funk.

That’s not normal; my four-plus years of Tesla Model S ownership have been a mostly giddy ride, with the few bumps minor and temporary.

But last week I was facing the prospect of two long-term permanent downgrades to my personal Tesla World, both related to Supercharging.

DON'T MISS: Life with Tesla Model S: out with the old, in with the new

First, the new 100D I had ordered last month (for delivery in late June or July) would not have the free Supercharging I’d become accustomed to with my current 2013 Model S-85.

To me, free-for-life Supercharging was a big part of the overall, too-good-to-be-true Tesla ownership experience I’d come to savor—and to expect.

Paying to Supercharge seemed like a step backward toward Everycar World, a planet I thought I’d left behind years ago.

2013 Tesla Model S owned by David Noland, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2015

2013 Tesla Model S owned by David Noland, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2015

Then came reports that Tesla was remotely slowing down peak Supercharging rates for certain Model S cars that it deemed had accumulated too many DC fast-charging cycles—without informing the owners. 

The purpose was to “prevent degradation of the battery pack,” which Tesla says can occur with frequent DC fast-charging (which of course includes Supercharging.)

Good  intentions aside, this move appeared to be another retreat from  Tesla World—an over-the-air software update that, instead of enhancing the car, actually degraded it.

GO WAY BACK: My 2013 Tesla Model S Electric Sport Sedan: Delivery at Last! (Feb 2013)

I happen to be a frequent Supercharger—both during my annual round-trip drives from New York to California, and locally, where I often partake of the juice at a Supercharger just a few miles from my home.

(Always being sure, of course, not to take up a charging spot needed by a transient Tesla.)

Was I one of the cars secretly selected for the charge rate slowdown? There was only one way to find out.

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

Your Supercharging rate may vary

It wasn’t just a simple matter of heading for my local Supercharger, plugging in, and checking the charge rate.

Supercharger rates vary widely, depending on a number of factors. 

READ THIS: Tesla Model S battery life: what the data show so far

Peak charging rates occur only when the battery is nearly empty, typically at a state of charge (SoC) of less than 10 percent or so.  As SoC increases, charge rate comes down. Above 95 percent capacity, it slows to a crawl.

Temperature is also a factor; a cold battery will charge more slowly.

Moreover, Supercharger stalls are wired in pairs; if both stations in a pair are being used, neither car will achieve peak charging rates.

 

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

Under those conditions—low battery SoC, fully warmed battery, and no car in the adjoining charging stall—the highest charge rate I’ve seen is 114 kw (Tesla’s claims of up to 135 kw notwithstanding).

Battery drained

To test whether my car’s peak Supercharging rate had been remotely slowed down, I needed to run my battery down below 10 percent SoC. That took a few days.

Unfortunately, the day of reckoning was an unusually cool day for mid-May: 58 degrees. With the Supercharger station just seven miles away, it was possible my battery wouldn't be fully warmed up by the time I arrived.

I plugged in with the SoC at 8 percent. The charge rate quickly spooled up to 112 kw—but then instantly retreated into the low 90s, eventually settling on 88 kw as the SoC crossed 13 percent.

Either my car had been targeted for the slowdown, or my battery wasn't quite up to temperature.

I’d know which in a few minutes: if the charge rate remained at 88 kw or declined, I was clearly a victim of the slowdown.

But if it gradually started to increase, that would mean the charging process was warming the battery, letting the charge rate to increase.

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

Sure enough, after a couple of minutes, the charge rate began to tick up. By 18 percent SoC, it was up to 96 kw.  At 20 percent it reached 98 kw. 

The charge rate finally peaked at 100 kw with the SoC at 23 percent: my normal charge rate with the battery a quarter full.

Whew. It appears I had dodged the Supercharger Slowdown bullet.

But in the long run, it would hardly matter. When my new 100D arrived in a few weeks, the Pay-To-Supercharge gun—a howitzer, in my view—would take direct aim at my head. As soon as I used the annual allotment of 400 kwh for free, the trigger would be pulled.

I felt like a condemned man.

Policy revamp

Then, over the weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk waved his magic wand and granted me clemency.

2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]

As part of a surprise revamp of the pay-to-Supercharge policy, Tesla announced that all current Model S and X owners would retain their free Supercharging privileges, even if they’d ordered new cars after the January 15, 2017, deadline as I had.

Furthermore, any future Model S or X buyer who is referred by another owner under Tesla’s referral program would also receive free Supercharging.

This referral procedure is a no-brainer; I imagine virtually all new buyers will now use it to obtain free Supercharging, not to mention the $1,000 discount.

So if almost everybody’s going to get free Supercharging, why not eliminate the remarkably complex remaining rules and just reinstate free Supercharging for all Models S and X, present and future, for life?

DETAILS HERE: Tesla extends free Supercharger use to all current owners

Such a move would fit nicely with the company’s recent efforts to underscore the differences between the upcoming mass-market Model 3 and the current Model S.

“Model 3 is just a smaller, more affordable version of Model S with less range & power & fewer features,” Musk tweeted last week, in an apparent effort to suggest impatient Model 3 reservation-holders should step up to a Model S they could get today.

It seems to me that free Supercharging would be a splendid strategy to separate the upscale Model S further from the mass-market Model 3.

In the meantime, it’s good to be fully back into Tesla World.

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