Free supercharges a strategic mistake?

Free supercharges a strategic mistake?

I have owned my P85 for nearly two years, and am eagerly awaiting delivery of a new P85D. I am a rabid Telsa fan and shareholder. Given an opportunity, I'm not shy about telling everyone that my experience with my Tesla tells me that electric cars are the future; because they’re just clearly superior vehicles in almost all ways.

Except for long trips. Personally I have never driven my S on a trip over 200 miles. In fact, in my two years of ownership I've almost never charged anywhere other than my garage. For almost all of my daily needs I have no need to charge except at night. But, if I'm going somewhere where my potential distance is anywhere close to my maximum range, I take my ICE. Why? I don't want the inconvenience of potentially having to "seek out" a place to charge.

Which leads me to my point. Ordinarily my intuition would tell me that when a clearly superior technology creates a growing demand for a new service (charging), the market will respond to that opportunity with equal or greater supply. Except, Tesla has screwed up the market with free superchargers. It is impossible for anyone to compete with Tesla on price, and unlikely that anyone will be motivated to “fill the gaps” geographically when Tesla has conditioned the market that the product is worthless.

It’s clear that the “for free, forever” model cannot last. If there is a sustained double-digit percentage growth in Tesla sales, and particularly when newer lower-cost models appear, I don’t care how many dots Tesla puts on their supercharger map, it won’t be enough. They’ll all be full all the time and no one will be happy, to say nothing of the expense they’ll add to Tesla’s bottom line (I don’t care how you get it, electricity isn’t free). It seems to me there must be a way for third parties to fill this clear need, and it cannot be free.

Generally I’ve been impressed with most of Tesla’s strategic decisions, and I’m sure this is something they’ve considered more than I have. I’m sure part of the rationale was to turn the long-trip-weakness into a strength. But, speaking for myself only, the fact that superchargers are free did not factor into my purchase decision at all. Personally, I think we’d all be better off if they were instead at a reasonable market rate. In economics, “free” screws everything up. For Tesla owners, in the long run free superchargers are a net negative.

Just my opinion. But I’d like to understand Mr. Musk’s counterargument, since I’m sure there must be one.

tanjlee | 2014年11月20日

There is nothing that indicates that future cars must be supercharger-for-free enabled. That is, the "lifetime free supercharging" might apply to only the first adopters, and not to subsequent cars. Who knows?

If that comes to pass -- if free supercharging stops after the first however many cars -- it's not like those early cars will be free forever either. Free for the lifetime of a car is not the same as free forever. I can imagine people hanging onto the early-model Teslas because they get free charging, like "lifetime" TiVo users or "unlimited data" cell phone customers hung onto their obsolete hardware, but eventually, the newer options on the newer cars will outweigh whatever charging cost that the new car may come with.

Fun to think about, isn't it? | 2014年11月20日

Keep in mind that cars *do* have a useful lifespan, and that a portion of the revenue from each purchase is already set aside to pay for the expected supercharger use during this projected lifespan. Say it's $2000, just as you would have to pay to add the capability to a MS60. That means, at an average price of $0.11/kWh (forgetting solar for a moment), you've already paid for 18MWh, or about 60,000 miles!! I seriously doubt more than a handful of Tesla owners will break this threshold.

Of course, there are capital expenses for the infrastructure itself, but consider now that Tesla is getting the full payment from everyone UP FRONT, and these capital costs go down over time as the network approaches completion (though it may never be fully complete and will continue to grow).

Now finally consider that the addition of solar will further reduce the cost of power, and I don't see how Tesla will lose on this model. The more I think about it, the more genius it sounds, actually. | 2014年11月20日

So get roadtrippin,'ve paid for it already!

Sam_S | 2014年11月20日

Only the 85 models are free for life and you paid for that in your purchase price.

I think it's a given it will be an option you'll have to pay for in the Model 3 so they can keep the base price competitive for mass market adoption.

SamO | 2014年11月20日

I own a S60 and paid $2000 for Supercharging . . . what is this free $#*@* you are talking about? ;-)

JZ13 | 2014年11月20日

This has been debated many times over the last few years. As stated above, Supercharging is not FREE. And it will be an option on the Model 3 that must be purchased probably for the same $2,000 Tesla is currently charging. So the revenue up front covers the cost of building an adequate number of stations to service the Tesla customers who chose to pay for the Supercharger access.

AoneOne | 2014年11月20日

There may be technical problems that make third-party superchargers difficult to implement, regardless of the licensing or payment issues. It's clear that a CHAdeMO to Tesla adapter isn't easy: presumably there are enough differences among the various CHAdeMO suppliers and installations that Tesla doesn't have confidence that the long-advertized adapter would meet customer expectations.

In a similar way, I'd be concerned that a third-party supercharger might differ just enough from Tesla's implementation to be either unreliable or even potentially damaging to the battery being charged.

So, even if the economics would warrant a third-part supercharger network, Tesla and its customers (us) might not be happy with the results, regardless of the payment model.

internauts | 2014年11月20日

I think noice makes a good point. The initial motivation to put some superchargers out there responds to the range limitation of the EV. But the market now has no motivation to provide level 3 charging for a price. There are places I cannot conveniently reach that are on routes that are not scheduled for a Tesla supercharger. [Level 2 charging takes too long to be considered convenient.] Commercial "power stations" will not buy Tesla supercharger equipment unless it is certain Tesla will not install a free alternative.

I also concur that in the 2016+ future, the Tesla supercharger locations are likely to be crowded at some times causing inconvenient delays. It may be wise for Tesla to clearly announce where they will install and that they will then stop. That will then give the market the certainty to install a level 3 charging station, charging for the charge, that we will appreciate.

jbunn | 2014年11月20日

I have a 60 and we roadtrip all the time. It's a great road car. In my opinion, noice, if you are not roadtripping, you should. You don't have to seek out a place to charge. They are quite easy to find. The car can find them, or you can look at the Tesla map on this site.

The Tesla supercharger model IS sustainable, and it was the flexibility to travel that made the S more than just a city car. Without the supercharger network the car would be less attractive.

dhayhoe | 2014年11月20日

And Tesla aren't the only electric vehicles either, there is still a market for other marques.

hpjtv | 2014年11月20日

@jbunn That was one of the main reasons why I purchased also.

DallasTeslan | 2014年11月20日

Through making Superchargers free for the life of the vehicle, Tesla has effectively created and incentive for them to continue to work on producing batteries with better range. I suspect this will be part of the strategy to deal with larger volumes of vehicles on the road----battery technology improves and Tesla owners don't need to use the Superchargers as often.

One of the things I looked forward to the most when I purchased was using the SC network, not paying a penny when I am on road trips. I intend to take road trips more frequently when the SC network is built out even more.

I would suspect at some point if the number of Teslas on the road increases exponentially, they might offer a monthly payment plan where you can pay $25/month for their use. This might make more sense than a larger payment up front with the purchase of the vehicle. I would imagine a simple software upgrade could accomplish this, where you have an option on your touch screen to activate SC use, or from the app on your cell phone, which could be linked to your credit card. This would make a lot of sense for some buyers who don't want to pay the full $2,000 but would like to be able to access the Superchargers on occasion.

AoneOne | 2014年11月20日

Is any pay-for-use electric car charging network a going concern? It doesn't seem so. But I do see a practical way to deploy a charging network. Just install L3 chargers at "gas" stations. These stations don't earn much on the fuel they sell: most of their profit is on the food and supplies they sell in the attached "convenience" store.

For example, Sheetz has installed CHAdeMO in a few locations, and charge $1 per 5 minutes of use. At 50kW, that's only $0.24/kWh, which is very reasonable.

At that rate, I doubt Sheetz expects to make much money on such chargers (<$8/hour, with a $22.5K capital cost) but they certainly bring customers to their stores.

Now let's get Sheetz, etc. to partner with Telsa to get their CHAdeMO chargers certified as Tesla-compatible. Perhaps that will get the CHAdeMO adapter release for selective use.

Captain_Zap | 2014年11月20日

A little over two years ago we were expecting an announcement at the Supercharger event about how much we would be charged for the electricity at the Superchargers. We figured there would be a monthly fee, for the sake of simplicity.

But, after further investigation, one finds that there are thousands of electric utilities out there and each State has their own tangled web of power resale laws.

It was no surprise that the electricity would be free. Having a fee and having to answer to each state's Utility Commission would be an administrative nightmare. When the time is right I expect some solar installations, but there are other priorities now.

Superchargers and the free electricity for the life of your Model S was the cheapest advertising coup imaginable. | 2014年11月20日

If so many Teslas are on the road that Superchargers are full, every restaurant chain around will offer free or discounted charging for the price of a meal.

bonaire | 2014年11月20日

george - I think "every" is a little extreme.
Now, some day, cheap DC fast or J-1772 supporting 30A throughput may become more commonplace and put in places like malls and restaurants. But how many at each location depands on EV expansion. Clearing there are only 1-2 J-1772 public locations open for every 500+ EV and PiHV sold in the country over time. This won't scale well until some larger companies like Marriott or McDonalds gets on board.

TeslaOR | 2014年11月20日

I don't agree that Tesla has made L3 charging worthless. What Tesla has said is that their superchargers will be free. That means that in Tesla's critical business ramp up stage, they have strategically addressed the concerns about range for the limited number of owners in these first critical adoption years.

Tesla never said that they will provide free L3 charging to all Teslas or how many superchargers they will install.

In the future, if the free Tesla superchargers are consistently full, I would expect many would pay ~$10 for a convenient L3 charge. By limiting the supply of free charging, demand will be created.

So I fully expect Tesla to stop rolling out superchargers after meeting their commitment to span the entire country(ies), and let others pick up the higher volume L3 charging.

SoCal Buzz | 2014年11月20日

I agree with others that future Supercharger access will likely be tied to a subscription.

I also wonder what % of Tesla owners have never been to a Supercharger, or have only visited a few times for the novelty or a roadtrip. I fit into this category. With a charger at work and 14-50 at home, I have only been to a Supercharger once because I had to, and once to show my kids.

The forum attracts driving enthusiasts, who may be more likely to roadtrip. But I would think the majority of potential owners may get by just fine with nightly charging 90% of the time. If so, the Superchargers become relevant and useful for a couple roadtrips per year, where one decides to drive the 300 miles plus instead of flying.

So hopefully the Superchargers will not become saturated or overcrowded, given the limited number of practical users who opt for the extra cost of purchase / subscription. | 2014年11月20日

Another thing to think about while worrying about the impact of Tesla's huge success is the possibility that batteries will continue to improve, range will increase and demand for chargers on the road will level off.

centralvalley | 2014年11月20日

Southern California already has Rancho Cucamonga and Cabazon Superchargers opening in the next few days and weeks, and Indio is already open. These SC are essentially along the same east-west highway (yes, Rancho is a few miles north of I10).

Culver City SC is under construction, and it is only a handful of miles from Hawthorne. There are rumors that Superchargers are planned for Thousand Oaks and Calabasas, and Oxnard is only 20 miles or so west.

Primm is nearing completion.

What this means to me is that quite soon on heavily traveled roads, Tesla drivers will have a choice of locations to Supercharge.

It would not surprise me in the least that in another couple of years, the touchscreen will have real time updates for suggested Supercharging stops. Travelers could input their route and destination, and the software could suggest Supercharger stops and estimated target range. Travelers would get a choice of charging to X miles at Ft. Tejon and then stopping at Rancho Cucamonga for Z miles and at Indio for Y miles, or they could charge to A miles at Ft. Tejon and B miles at Cabazon before reaching Quartzsite.

Tesla monitors Supercharger usage daily, and could come up with algorithms as to the daily and weekly peaks and valleys for Supercharger demand. This would assist in helping travelers determine where to stop and for how long.

And this will all be "free!"

jbunn | 2014年11月20日


Hyatt is onboard on the left coast. I'm aware of three locations on the coastline between San Francisco and LA that have multiple Tesla HPWCs installed. I've stayed at two in the last year, and found them on the Tesla site. Other hotels are getting the religion as well. And that's great because when I don't want to blast along the highway routes, but want to take the slow, scenic routes, I have Tesla dedicated charging there too.

negarholger | 2014年11月20日

Centralvalley - exactly. One reason they put so many SC into central Europe is to develop the software... there you need about 100 for a realistic test coverage, in the US you would need 10 times more.

Also SC are not simple electricity fountains, but are key part of the plan to transform the dumb car of today into your personal travel assistant.

Rocky_H | 2014年11月20日

Let me put in a quote from you:
"Personally I have never driven my S on a trip over 200 miles. In fact, in my two years of ownership I've almost never charged anywhere other than my garage."
Now, let me add my experience. I have had my Tesla for 7 months and also never used a Supercharger.

Another quote from you:
"I don’t care how many dots Tesla puts on their supercharger map, it won’t be enough. They’ll all be full all the time"

Look at the first part...Now look at the second part. If you look at it long enough, it'll come to you.
Go ahead--we'll wait.

mgboyes | 2014年11月20日

@Rocky_H +1

(FTR I've supercharged twice in 6 months of ownership, for a total of 30 minutes)

Bighorn | 2014年11月20日

Rocky +1

jchangyy | 2014年11月20日

i would not have bought w/o promise of a supercharger. had mine for almost 2 years and traveled from San Jose area to San Diego/LA area ~10 times or so. punishment...I mean, pleasure of having a 3 year old to visit Disney/LegoLand/Sea World. only place where I had to wait to charge was Hawthorne. Had some destination charging problems in San Diego...

So, I think many?some? were lured by the concept of superchargers, which allowed the company to survive and flourish, in my opinion. Otherwise, I would not have bought the vehicle...personally speaking.

TeoTeslaFan | 2014年11月20日


Supercharger use will decline sharply in 15 to 20 years. The reason is because in a day there are only so many hours one can drive. Even if you drive the whole day how many miles can you drive before you need to sleep? It is maybe 500, 600, 700, 800 miles. But at the end it is a limited number of miles and when the range of the car gets closer to that number supercharger use will decrease.

10 years from now I would expect the Model S to have 550 mile range. In 15 years it should be about 800 miles.

This is what JB Straubel, Tesla's Chief Technology Officer said in May 2014. Watch from 5:19 to 8:15 here.

6:50s "We looked at this graph and spent a lot of time talking to all the different companies driving the improvements here and there was nothing and still is nothing today that's clearly starting to plateau on this graph. These improvements are still compounding and improving and it's not a Moore's law, it's not close to that but it's something close to doubling in performance, of energy density performance about every 10 years."

7:29s "Model S was introduced about 5 years after the Roadster and we saw improvements around 40 percent. These improvements are not standing still. We are continuing to watch the same doubling every 10 years for at least another 10 to 20 years."

For more discussion about larger battery, check out this topic.

I was worried about the future of superchargers too until I read a comment by a Roadster owner. Roadsters don't have supercharger capability and they are not expected to have it with the proposed 400 mile battery upgrade. But a Roadster owner said the range is getting close to the maximum amount of miles he would like to drive in a day. He said with slow chargers he can top up the range to 450 miles during two break times.

15 years from now if you had an 800 mile battery would you care about superchargers? I want to clarify a detail. Range improvements will come with better cells that have the same weight but more capacity. We are not talking about a heavier Model S. That's not going to happen. In 15 years the 800 mile range Model S will have the same weight as today's Model S and might be even lighter.

akikiki | 2014年11月20日

I've heard it all now. The OP is complaining because we have SuperChargers and many folks don't have to pay a fee. This proves that even TM can't make every body happy.

Oh yes, OP, please don't use the SuperChargers since they were a mistake.

TeoTeslaFan | 2014年11月20日

In a video Elon talked about superchargers being free. He said, I paraphrase, "we could charge customers a small amount but then you have to calculate how much to charge and it could be confusing to people how much does it cost per mile and so on. But everybody understands free. There is no discussion about it."


Quote: "Having a fee and having to answer to each state's Utility Commission would be an administrative nightmare."

That's a good point. The issue is not with just some states in the US. In one of his videos Bjorn said in Norway they can't charge you for the amount of electricity you use in public chargers. Therefore some of them charge you by time you are plugged in. In some countries you can't sell electricity unless you have a license as a utility company.

Plugged In | 2014年11月20日

Seems to me that I and everyone with an 85 paid up front for the supercharger usage. If I choose to not use them, I have ripped myself off.

Furthermore, when I choose to drive the ice machine when the Tesla can do the job, I also rip myself off... And deprive myself of one of life's unique pleasures: history being made.

TeoTeslaFan | 2014年11月20日
Tstolz | 2014年11月20日

Superchargers cost $2,000 per car - so no question it's paid for. I just assumed that Telsa was creating the new charging standard and model for the industry by building the infrastructure themselves. Elon would likely be happy to accept other manufacturor's cars at Superchargers in fact if they participated in 'the plan' and coughed up $2,000 per car plus money for infrastructure. With "free" superchargers soon to be everywhere other car manufacturors will have no option but to adopt the Tesla standard.

shop | 2014年11月20日

Just because something is outwardly free doesn't mean there isn't a viable commercial business model behind it. Free broadcast TV has existed for over 60 years. The business model for Superchargers is to fold in their cost into the vehicle. At this point, there is no evidence that Tesla will fall behind and have overloaded Superchargers. With over 200 Supercharger sites worldwide, at any one point in time, there may be two or three sites that are overloaded. And Tesla actively addresses the overcrowded sites.

Turning the argument around, the current fee based charging networks do not work well. Blink chargers are, well, often on the blink. Coverage anywhere is spotty at best. Sites are frequently overloaded - one or two J1772 chargers at one location hardly compares to a Superchager with 12 bays.

If you think incentives matter (which is why you are agitating for a fee based system), you need to realize that Tesla's reputation is very much tied into their Superchargers. They absolutely do not want to have angry customers complain about the network.

Bottom line, I'm not worried about congestion, incentives, etc. And I don't think a fee based system would work better.

Bikezion | 2014年11月20日

A sustainable business model comes down to economics. The supercharger network wins. Tesla charges $2,000 for lifetime access with an S60 and includes it with an S85. Tesla has sold 50,000 model S cars. Most are S85's. We'll assume that the 60 owners purchased supercharging access. I'm sure there are very few without it. There are a handful of S40 owners. So 50,000x$2,000= $100,000,000 in revenue. The 2 costs I seem to remember for supercharger construction are $150,000 without solar and $300,000 with solar. Most of them do not currently have solar, with the goal being more superchargers over solar for existing superchargers. Tesla currently has 223 superchargers world wide. $150,000x223=$33,450,000. $100,000,000-$33,450,000=$66,550,000 minus the few with solar and the ones currently under construction. Let's say that equals 100x$150,000=$15,000,000. $66,550,000-$15,000,000= $51,550,000.

Now we have lifetime electricity cost to account for. In the most recent blog post Tesla reveled that the superchargers have enabled 24,700,000 miles. Divided by 3 (3 miles per kWh) equals 8,300,000 (rounded up). The price for electricity is the biggest variable, but at $0.25 per kWh it is $2,075,000. So Tesla still has close to $50,000,000 to continue to fund the electric costs, or to fund the solar installs, which would then turn the superchargers into a profit generator. There is also the battery buffering that maybe going on currently which could potentially be generating income, or at least offsetting expense.

donaldmeacham1 | 2014年11月20日

I drive 200-210 miles twice a month from home A to home B and have never used a SC because the closest one is almost 400 miles away. The rest of the time I average about 300 miles per week and charge at home with either a 14-50 or HPWC.

Bikezion | 2014年11月20日

There are now 262 superchargers, so in less than a month Tesla has added 39 superchargers. Or about one every 18 hours, JUST LIKE ELON SAID! Of course my math above already accounts for 323 superchargers, with the money to pay for electricity for the next 25 years! The supercharger business model is ingenious, and is one of the many areas that set Tesla apart. It is not a strategic mistake at all, it is the key to replacing gasoline/petrol.

I do believe at my nearest supercharger (St. George, Utah) they have a big metal box full of batteries (not 100% sure), that allow 2 things, 1; no spike fees, and 2; power buffering, meaning purchase at night at a reduced rate, and resale during the day at full price. Again not sure if it is currently implemented, but that us surely the future. Add in solar and the supercharger network will PAY Tesla in the long run.

Tesltoronto | 2014年11月20日

How naive can one be? Nothing is free. We have all paid for the Superchargers upfront.

Assuming that the amount we paid is $2000 and assuming that there are (conservatively put) 40,000 MS on the road that are Supercharger enabled, that is a $80 Million that has already in the kitty for Tesla. We have around 262 superchargers till date. That is approximately $305,000 per supercharger. The cost to build a supercharger is estimated at $150K.
That leaves a cool $155K per supercharger ($305-$150) towards electricity and maintenance costs. Mind you, all of these charges are paid in ADVANCE.

Now tell me, where did the "free" come from?

Kudos to Elon and his team for thinking through this. What business acumen!!!

NKYTA | 2014年11月20日

Indeed, my northern brother, indeed.

Tesltoronto | 2014年11月20日

Let us look at an alternate business model for Tesla.

Say Tesla charges $10 per visit to the Supercharger. Anything higher than $10 per visit, will be detrimental to sales of MS in my opinion.

Let us assume that the 40000 MS visit a supercharger once a month. That is 480,000 visits @ $10 = $4.8 Million.

Collecting $80 million in advance (@ $2000 per car) or charge pay per use and collect $4.8 million per year? You don't have to be an accounting genius to work out the math.

Tesltoronto | 2014年11月20日

Lastly, how many times have we seen the jaw drop, when we tell our friends that charging is free for life!!!

Chunky Jr. | 2014年11月20日

I could see paying for third party supercharging if I got a benefit out it beyond charging. For example, they could have a restaurant and a lounge for watching a ballgame or something. Clean bathrooms you don't have to walk to get to. Squeezes for washing the windows. A way to check and fill your tires. Basically something like an upscale gas station. Probably not enough demand for a business like this now, but there could be in a few years.

bonaire | 2014年11月20日

One idea is for SC sites to have tire refilling pumps too. To keep an EV running the most miles per charge, tires should be properly inflated. And as a public service, anyone should be able to us it. Why not offer ICE drivers a chance go get a little better mileage out of their cars for free using an air pump. Not those $1 coin operated contraptions at gas stations or convenience stores.

AoneOne | 2014年11月20日

@Teo: when cars have an 800 mile range, we'll need much more away-from-home charging capacity. Many of today's gas station stops will be replaced by charging stops and so we'll need more, not fewer, superchargers (or their equivalent in other charging capacity).

We could see a proliferation of 160-amp L2 destination chargers with quad on-board chargers, or a variety of L3 options. In any case, a couple of HPWCs at a hotel won't be sufficient.

dbh | 2014年11月20日

There is a roughly zero chance I would have bought a Tesla without supercharging. I make about two trips a month with superchargers (Bay Area to Tahoe or Bay Area to LA). It's fantastic. And it may even be profitable for them, hard to say.

negarholger | 2014年11月20日

This $2k stuff is nonsense... you have to pay $70 to $130k to get access to the SC network.
Watch TV tonight at the commercial breaks look for for car advertising... there you can see how other car companies think it is best to spend your money.
SC are advertisement... little Tesla billboards in high traffic areas all across the World. Tesla will not stop building SC, actually it will increase the rate over at least the next 10 years - the advertising value is simply too good.

TeoTeslaFan | 2014年11月20日


Quote: "when cars have an 800 mile range, we'll need much more away-from-home charging capacity."

No. Let's assume 15 years from now somebody is driving from California to Kansas with an 800 mile range Tesla. The distance is 1539 miles and it will take 22h41m hours. Would that person sleep somewhere or would he do the whole trip in one go? Of course he would sleep. Who drivers for that long non-stop?

As you see there is no need for a supercharger because people continue sleeping at night time even when they are away from home. Wherever they sleep that's when they will fill up the car and you don't need superchargers for overnight charging.

I found this topic on a website called roadtripamerica. The title is "How far is it safe to drive in one day?" Check it out. | 2014年11月20日

Yea I really can't make sense of AoneOne's argunnet | 2014年11月20日

Argument* | 2014年11月20日

I am going to paraphrase @Bighorn - there are two types of Tesla drivers: those who never supercharge and worry about supercharging and those who do supercharge and don't worry about it.

Outside of Fremont, I rarely even see anyone at a SuperCharger, and while I have had to wait at a SC a handful of times, the longest wait has been maybe 15 min.

SamO | 2014年11月21日

+1 Bighorn and Omarsultan

Once you use the Superchargers, you realize that it is a different pace of life. Enjoy the "no extra charge" electrons. Drink of them deeply.