Alongside the legendary customer service, fresh buying experience, best-in-class range and outstanding performance, Tesla’s global network of free-to-use DC Supercharger stations have to date been one of the strongest selling points of buying a Tesla Model S or Model X.
Capable of adding more than 170 miles of range to a Tesla Model S or Tesla Model X battery pack in just 30 minutes, Tesla’s proprietary supercharger network also happens to be the most reliable electric vehicle charging network out there too, thanks to its modular design and multiple-stall policy at each Supercharger location.
It’s also a victim of its own success, with some Tesla Supercharger sites witnessing massive queues during peak demand periods around popular holidays like July 4, Thanksgiving and Christmas as Tesla customers take advantage of the free-at-point-of-use charging network to make massively long road trips that were completely impractical before the advent of the Supercharger network. Additionally, while most Tesla customers use the Supercharger network responsibly, charging at home or their destination most of the time and only relying on the Supercharger network for long-distance trips, some owners abuse the ‘free’ network, using it almost exclusively as their own personal charging station in place of charging at home.
To date, Tesla has funded the Supercharger network and its free, unlimited (within reason) use policy by placing a premium on all new Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X cars. But As it prepares to bring its mass-market Model 3 to market — and continues to bust its own sales records with more and more sales per quarter — its Supercharger network is starting to feel the strain.
Which is why, we’d wager, Tesla has announced today that from the start of next year it will place a cap on its free Supercharger use for customers who order a Tesla electric car after January 1st, 2017. Instead, it will give customers an annual allocation of 400 kilowatt-hours of Supercharger credits that can be used to provide approximately 1,000 miles of free Supercharger use across its network. Once customers have used that allocation up, they will need to buy Supercharger credits in order to charge their cars at a Supercharger station.
We’ve known about the idea of Supercharger credits for a while: back when Tesla unveiled its Model 3 electric car in March, it explained that customers buying a Model 3 would have to pay in order to access the Supercharger network, purchasing Supercharger credits as needed in order to make use of the Supercharger network. But up until today, it was assumed that new Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X customers would continue to be granted access to the Supercharger network in the same unlimited, free-for-life form that existing owners have enjoyed for four years.
Tesla hasn’t yet released details of how much Supercharging credits will cost once customers have used up their free 400 kWh of electricity, but it’s worth mentioning here that charging customers to make use of the Supercharger Network will likely incur something of a backlash from the Tesla faithful.
After all, at the moment it’s possible to make a trip from Los Angeles to New York without spending a dime on power. As of next year, anyone buying a new Tesla will only be able to make it a third of the way across the U.S. before having to pay up. Of course, not everyone makes these kinds of trips, but we’d wager those who live along the popular U.S. west-coast and eastern sea board commuting corridors will feel the burden of the new policy the most, since a return trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco would eat up a customer’s annual allocation in a single go.
How much will Tesla charge for Supercharger Credits beyond this free limit? That’s up for debate but we’re predicting a price of between 15 and 30 cents per kilowatt-hour for the U.S. should be expected as an absolute minimum. At the moment, the average cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity in the U.S. is 12 cents. We think charging less than 15 cents per kilowatt-hour would make it difficult for Tesla’s Supercharger Credit system to be financially worthwhile. Charging more than 30 cents per kWh would place Tesla’s Supercharger network on par with lower-speed networks from companies like Blink and EvGo
Will it cause a mass exodus among Tesla owners, furious Tesla is taking away its unlimited access for new customers? It’s unlikely. The fact remains that at the moment, the Supercharger network undeniably the best electric car charging network in the world. To date, customers have been given access to it at what we suspect is a loss for Tesla. And even though we’re expecting a backlash from the minority who will state they feel Supercharger access should remain free for all, we think most customers will be more than happy to pay for electricity beyond the 400 kWh free being offered them by Tesla for all new purchases made after January 1.
After all, Even at 30 cents per kWh (a price we’re sure Tesla will be far below when it announces its pricing in the coming months), driving 100 miles is still going to several dollars less in a Tesla Model S P100D than it would in a comparable car like a 2016 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Sedan. At 15 cents per kWh (a price we’re expecting Tesla to charge), the cost of taking a Model S would be half that of taking the Benz.
Do you think Tesla is right to start charging for Supercharger access? Is its 400 kWh credits enough for most customers? And what do you expect its price per kilowatt-hour to be?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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