UPDATE: Tesla Motors, Ecotricity Ordered By Court to Provide More Documents in Ongoing Battle Over Charging Stations

[UPDATE: Following contact from Tesla Motors to report errors in the Bloomberg article cited in the original article, we’ve made adjustments to the original story below.]

Nearly a year since UK-based green utility company and electric car charging infrastructure network Ecotricity filed court papers against Californian automaker Tesla Motors in a disagreement over public charging infrastructure, British High Court Judge Dame Vivien Rose has ordered both Tesla and Ecotricity to provide additional documentary evidence to assist the trial.

To Tesla, she asked that it provide documentary evidence of internal meetings and discussions with other companies about setting up its own network of Supercharging stations across the UK. To Ecotricity, she asked to see financial records, strategy documents and modeling that support its claim that it can use exclusive agreements to block Tesla’s access to motorway sites. These are due by April 22.

Ecotricity claims Tesla tried to cut it out of deals for the UK supercharger network.

Ecotricity claims Tesla tried to cut it out of deals for the UK supercharger network.

The ongoing court case is the culmination of an ongoing  argument between the two firms for what Ecotricity calls a “smash and grab raid” on its intellectual property concerning nationwide public charging stations.

Ecotricity, an established provider of rapid DC and AC quick charging across the UK’s motorway network, claimed in court papers last year that Tesla had approached it many month months ago when it was readying itself to bring its luxury Model S electric car to the UK. After agreeing to help use its local knowledge to help design and built Tesla’s UK Supercharger network, a process which included introducing Tesla executives to some of its partner providers, Ecotricity alleges that Tesla went behind its back and tried to cut its own deals, without the Stroud-based company.

“After signing a mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement, Ecotricity helped to design Tesla’s network, showed them the best locations, introduced them to our landlords and partners, and started building the first two chargers for them ready for the [UK Model S] Launch,” Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said in an official statement last summer.

Evidence of these two sites can be seen at the South Mimms Services on London’s orbital M25 motorway and the M42 Services at Hopwood Park. Both owned and operated by Welcome Break, the ground work for Tesla Superchargers can still be seen at both sites today, nearly a year after they first appeared.

This was to be one of the first Tesla Supercharger sites in the UK, next to an Ecotricity rapid charging station. Eleven months after the photo was taken, there's still no Supercharger active here.

This was to be one of the first Tesla Supercharger sites in the UK on the M25 orbital motorway, next to an Ecotricity rapid charging station. Eleven months after the photo was taken, there’s still no Supercharger active here.

Shortly before the UK launch, Ecotricity claims it received an email from Tesla making “very clear threats to undermine Ecotricity and the Electric Highway,” which Vince described last year as being “shocking and brutal,” and “very dark.”

As Bloomberg reported, Judge Rose said in an interim hearing this morning that more evidence is needed to ensure a thorough and fair hearing.

Speaking earlier today, she said “There do seem to have been meetings in October, 2014 [with motorway service providers]. Something more is needed to be absolutely sure that there’s nothing more.” At the same time, she criticized Ecotricity’s approach to the proceedings in court.

While those meetings post-date last year’s official high court injunction filed by Ecotricity against Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA], Ecotricity says that Tesla used its confidential information to convince existing partners like Welcome Break Group Ltd — the first of the UK motorway rest stop providers to partner with Ecotricity — to break their agreements with Ecotricity in favour of Tesla’s Superchargers.

Dale Vince, CEO and founder of Ecotricity

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince accuses Tesla Motors of bully tactics.

Following Ecotricity’s injunction against Tesla, the Californian automaker countersued Ecotricity, accusing it of ‘acting abusively’ in its dominant position in the UK market.

The case will continue at a further date once Tesla has provided Justice Rose with the requested documentary evidence, although it’s important to note at this point that at this time the High Court has ordered rather than forced Tesla to search for relevant documents, an important legal distinction which stops short of what Ecotricity was seeking in its original injunction.

In keeping with its existing legal practices, Tesla Motors will not discuss any pending or ongoing litigation with the press.

[EDIT: March 26, 1am Eastern]

Overnight, we’ve been contacted by Tesla Motors chief of communications Ricardo Reyes,  who says the original article cited by us from Bloomberg — and which appeared in The Detroit News — only describes the first-half of the proceedings yesterday at the High Court. You can see the email below.

“About this:

I suspect Bloomberg only watched the first half of the hearing. This article describes only the first half. 

It failed to report the following: Ecotricity was ordered to promptly (by April 22) produce financial records, strategy documents and modeling that purportedly support its claim that it can use exclusive agreements to block Tesla’s access to motorway sites and, notably, further ordered that Ecotricity’s evidence would be excluded if it failed to do so. The Court further ordered that Ecotricity produce any documents regarding its purported losses (with the Court describing Ecotricity’s proposed approach as a “mockery of the pleadings”) and search the files of its financial officer, among other orders.

Tesla was successful in a hearing today in the Ecotricity case, winning the vast majority of the matters before the Court. 

Tesla has actually sued Ecotricity for violating antitrust laws for preventing Tesla customers from using Superchargers on the UK’s motorway sites. Just like drivers of combustion engines, those driving EVs should have a choice of charging services, yet Ecotricity is fighting to prevent anyone else from offering electric charging services on the motorways. Tesla’s Supercharger network provides the pleasure of pollution-free long-distance road trips, free of charge; and we encourage other companies to provide charging solutions of their own. Ultimately, if not addressed, the victims of Ecotricity’s anti-competitive behaviour will be consumers and innovation.

We remain focused on building convenient charging solutions for our customers, enabling long-distance travel, free of charge at the Superchargers. There are currently 22 Supercharger stations in the UK with 60 Superchargers from Edinburgh to Exeter, and Bristol to Maidstone, linking the UK, via the station in Calais, to the continental European Supercharger network which currently stands at 118 Supercharger stations and almost 700 Superchargers.”

A previous version of this story failed to report that both parties in the case were requested to provide additional information, and our story has been edited to reflect this fact. We apologise for any confusion this may cause. 


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  • D. Harrower

    A disturbing turn of events if Tesla has resorted to breaking deals in order to advance its own network…nnOn the other hand, I’m not clear on what Ecotricity’s motivation was here. Tesla is putting up a charging network in direct competition with their own! They cannot be expecting a cut of Tesla’s profit from the network because Tesla does not charge fees to use it!nnI can’t see any Tesla owner choosing an Ecotricity fast charger over a Supercharger if the two happen to share a site, and Superchargers don’t work with non-Tesla vehicles…so what was Ecotricity expecting?!

    • Pixelbase Electric

      It’s not entirely true that Tesla puts up a charging network in direct competition, because they use a proprietary connector and charging system, allowing only Tesla drivers to charge for free (for now). nnnThis leaves 2 options: 1) Both Ecotricity and Tesla offer their chargers to their respective customers, resulting in more space needed for the EVSEs. 2) Both companies strike a deal to offer a joint service from one set of EVSEs. nnWhilst option 2 would make sense for consumers, I can’t see it happening, as Tesla ties the supercharging stations to their cars and branding. I can see that Ecotricity initially (and maybe naively) offered their expertise and contacts and hoped for a joint venture further down the line. This might have backfired.

      • D. Harrower

        I guess what I meant by direct competition is that if Tesla completes their network, it offers strong incentive for consumers to buy Tesla products, rather than those which use Ecotricity’s system. So, would “indirect” competition be more appropriate, then?

    • WeaponZero

      There is no indicator that Tesla and Ecotricity had any deals. If they did they would have produced a contract and it would have been the end of that. Considering that Ecotricity is trying to have the Judge search Tesla’s records makes it fairly clear they had no contract.nnSince Ecotricity signed exclusivity agreements with many important stops, they most likely assumed Tesla would have no choice but to use them. So they most likely jumped the gun and took informal meetings as an indicator to go forward.nnThe issue is, Ecotricity has little standing, because the exclusivity agreements for something like this is anti-competitive in nature and would not hold up in court. Hence why Ecotricity is losing the other case where Tesla sued them for violation of anti-trust laws.

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