With the announcement of the Model 3, Tesla has not yet defined the usage of the superchargers leaving a series of open questions for the future.
- Will there be enough superchargers to support all the different Teslas in urban areas?
- Will the Model 3 supercharging capability be an add on cost over the base model or a pay per use model?
- Will Tesla develop enhancements to the supercharging stations, the Tesla app, or expand the valet service to improve throughput at crowded superchargers?
To answer these questions, lets look at how the supercharging works today and some challenges to the current system. As a long term Tesla owner and driver who has visited exactly 100 superchargers, I have used the system a reasonable amount and foresee some challenges with the introduction of the Model 3 that are hopefully clarified before they are delivered.
Supercharger Use Models
Long Distance Driving
Initially the superchargers were envisioned to enable long distance driving. Even with a battery capable of 200 miles of driving, many people typically on perhaps a monthly basis take trips to further destinations. The superchargers were conceived to address the need of long distance driving and were primarily located in remote locations on major interstates. But two of the first superchargers were also located in the middle of Los Angeles (Hawthorne) and the San Francisco Bay Area (Fremont).
Electricity is much cheaper than gas. Charging in your garage is much nicer than charging at a supercharger. The process is simply much more convenient and inexpensive for the vast majority of Model S and X drivers who own a home or have easy access to a plug at work.
Given the price point of the Model S and X, most owners live in single family homes. But a significant number live in apartments and condominiums and depend upon charging in other locations. Some owners rely solely on superchargers for their daily driving needs. Many Tesla employees in the sales centers have told potential customers that they can use the superchargers for regular driving. On my travels, I have met several drivers who have only charged their Model S for years now using superchargers.
Tesla has given different statements on supercharging for local use. Tesla last summer sent a few owners letters stating that they should be more considerate when using the superchargers. After quite a bit of controversy about these letters, Tesla quickly stopped sending these letters but never clarified any position about using the superchargers.
Current reality of Superchargers
Generally outside of holiday weekends, most superchargers located in remote areas are rarely full or particularly busy. These chargers are located in small towns with only a few conveniences for road travel. On busy weekends, several superchargers on Sundays can be quite busy and drivers have had to wait for empty stalls.
Supercharging in Urban Areas
Supercharging in areas such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area has become crowded. On long trips home I often stop at the San Mateo supercharger to top off the battery in order to drive home while spending 15 minutes shopping at the nearby Whole Foods. This supercharger has eight stalls that are frequently completely full, and I have had to wait a few times.
I have witnessed many people charging in urban areas filling up their cars to the maximum range. So my assumption is these people are using the superchargers for their daily needs and wish to minimize the number of times they need to charge. Unfortunately, a full range charge is a much slower process than filling up the battery just enough to get to the next supercharger station.
At a handful of busy superchargers have some version of valet service. At San Mateo and Fountain Valley attendants have been seen that help control the charging. There are no reports that these attendants do anything other than try to encourage people to return to their car when the charge is complete or maintain the line. These attendants also only are at the site during peak usage times.
At Burbank, which is located at a service center, the attendant has also served as a valet. On my trip to Southern California in February, on one visit I handed the attendant my key and he moved my car to the charger when a spot opened up.
Model 3 Supercharging Futures
The Model 3 is considerably cheaper than the S or the X, so clearly the number of owners who do not live in single family homes will be significantly higher. The strain on the supercharger network will be much higher. If the supercharger network is doubled by the end of 2017, perhaps most of these new stations will be in urban areas to support this growth.
The current version of the Tesla website has it listed as supercharging capable. Tesla is implying they will in some manner require Model 3 drivers to pay for supercharging.
Model 3 Supercharging Cost
The Model 3 clearly will have the hardware inside to be able to supercharge. Tesla can offer a variety of methods to charge the Model 3 owner for supercharging. A flat life time rate of $2,000 as was used in the past for the Model 60 is an option. A supercharging contract on a monthly basis is another option. A third option would be a system that paid per charge; the pay per charge rate could be either by energy added or by time. The time method would discourage people from filling up their battery to the last kW as this takes a lot more time. Tesla could also charge you only if you are within 50 miles from your primary home address.
Various owners have suggested different schemes to help direct traffic at the superchargers. Perhaps an indication light on the charger itself to select the next best available charger. The Tesla app tells drivers when their charge is completed, but often drivers are not immediately available to move their car.
Better Pair Signage
The charging stations are paired. The rate of charge on your car depends upon the rate of charge on the paired station. The markings indicating the pairs are not very easy to find, and you cannot easily tell how far along your pair is in the charging process. Ideally you want to find a station with an inactive pair. The photo shows this station marked as 3B but all superchargers labeling is not consistent. Also the pairs are not always laid out in the same manner from station to station.
Tesla could improve and standardize the pair labeling, and also inform their customers about the supercharger pairs. I have talked many times to owners at superchargers who are unaware of the pairing. The conversation typically comes up when someone tries to charge at my pair, and I suggest that they will charge faster if they move to another station.
Checking the Rate of Charge
I always check the rate of charge before walking away from the car. At times I will find the station is faulty and the rate of charge is really slow and I will move onto the next station. If the rate of charge is extremely low, I will call the Tesla number 1-877-798-3752 and report the problem. It would be nice if the car itself detected that the rate was quite low and provide a message on the screen and the app, so the driver does not have to do a manual visual check.
The supercharging system works really well today outside of a handful of locations. The Model 3 will put a lot more pressure on urban superchargers. Hopefully by the time the Model 3 is closer to production, Tesla will produce a more clearer supercharger use statement, and perhaps have valets are the very busy sites.
How do you think Tesla should charge Model 3 owners for using the superchargers?