Tesla Superchargers may be too popular for their own good

Tesla Supercharger -Michael Hicks - (CC BY 2.0) 1

Giving away free stuff can be a winning business strategy, but it can backfire if customers start gaming the system. At Tesla’s recent shareholders’ meeting, Elon Musk complained that some Model S owners living near the company’s free Superchargers are using them to charge up for everyday driving, rather than for road trips as Tesla intended.

Musk isn’t just being paranoid. The research firm PlugInsights told us that of 340 US Model S drivers surveyed this month, 26% have used a Supercharger at least once as a free alternative to charging at home.

If this trend continues, it could get a little expensive for Tesla. However, the real threat is that popular stations, some of which are already plagued by long lines, could be overwhelmed by local users, making them much less useful for their intended purpose (the technical business term for this is “ruining it for everybody”).

Musk implied that hogging chargers is uncool behavior, and mentioned the possibility of local Supercharger users receiving “friendly reminders” that the stations are intended for intercity travel (around 1:11:00 into the video below).

However, beyond encouraging customers to do the right thing, it’s not clear that there’s anything Tesla could legally do to stop this trend. Like “all you can eat,” the term “free for life” means pretty much what it says. Tesla’s web site states that “Supercharging is free for the life of Model S.” However, Green Car Reports’ David Noland wrote that, after Musk’s speech, the company made some changes to the language regarding Superchargers on the site. Model S owners have a lively discussion about the issue going on the Tesla Motors Forums.

SEE ALSO: Tesla’s liquid-cooled Supercharger cable could enable faster charge times


Sources: Tesla, PlugInsightsGreen Car Reports
Image: Michael Hicks (CC BY 2.0) 

  • Electric Bill

    It may be too late to change the behavior of today’s S owners, but he at least has the option of writing up future sales contracts in such a way that if there is abuse of the “free” charging, that the company has the right to limit Superchargers in some way– such as saying that those later Model S buyers can be limited to X number of free charges per X period of time when they are less than X distance from their principal residences.

    It could further assure that more Superchargers will be added as quickly as possible to alleviate any charger scarcity.

    Tesla’s footprint is growing at a nearly exponential rate; it is obvious that Superchargers will need to be installed at least as rapidly as their vehicle sales– I do not know if they plan to offer free Supercharging to X and 3 owners, too, but if they do, it seems that it will eventually present a horrendous logistical problem. Will there really be enough real estate in any given area to accommodate solar panels to supply all the Teslas made, once they reach something of a saturation point? It seems inevitable that eventually, Tesla will have to have something akin to its own electric grid distribution system just for its vehicles, knowing that Musk very much wants to supply all Teslas with electrons harvested from the Sun.

    I would not want to have to be the one who has to figure out such a gnarly problem! Good luck on that, Elon.

    • vike

      @disqus_iw9LJ5aZm4:disqus – I think the concerns raised in the second half of your post are effectively addressed in the first half. The problem is that Superchargers are now free and unrestricted, and I think that X, 3, and probably even future S owners will not get this “early adopter” benefit. As you note, there’s no reason to price or restrict Supercharger use on the road, but there is also no reason NOT to restrict use of Superchargers local to Tesla owners.

      Your model is well thought out (i.e., not a total ban, but a reasonable restriction on number of uses per month or year before fees apply). Given the S’s range, there are very few local use cases that should require charging beyond what can be achieved in one’s garage, and those should be covered by the “grace” provisions you suggest. I hope Tesla’s already thinking along these lines, especially for the 3, as I’m not sure building a parallel proprietary electrical grid with no user fees will prove to be sustainable!

  • Tapeguy Tech

    I can’t help but find humor in this. I held Tesla in the
    highest esteem until I learned that their SC were only for Tesla use. If they
    want to build a proprietary network, then that is their choice. However do not
    hog free public J1772 stations with your massive battery. Or worse yet have the
    nerve to pull into a non Tesla dealership and charge for free. I feel there is/was
    an unwritten agreement in the EV world, that regardless of the manufacture we
    are a family, I guess not.

    • vperl

      I cry for you, Argentina.

      Free 20-30 amp. chargers……

      There are few few 20-30 amp. chargers around that a Tesla owner would use unless it was a total and complete last resort.

      CHAdeMo on the other hand one pays for, and my CHAdeMO adapter is ready to rock, if necessary.

      Sorry Charlie, no soup for you.

      • Tapeguy Tech

        “Don’t cry for me Argentina”. The CHAdeMO at the Nissan dealership in my town is free. Yes I read the brags on the Tesla site, about how if you were nice and talked sweetly, you could charge your Tesla for free at a Nissan dealership. Even saw the photos of a Tesla charging (for free)at the very same dealership, posted on plugshare. Now I agree, shame on Nissan for allowing it. If it was a pay to charge CHAdeMO for all except Nissan, or if SC where available to all brands subject to the same pay to charge for all but Tesla. Then we would not be having this conversation. Tesla’s don’t use 20-30 amp stations? There are tons of posted photos on plugshare, of Tesla’s charging at free public level 2 stations. If Tesla wants to build and invest in their proprietary SC network, then that is their choice. But don’t piggy back for free on others because you have failed to provide said network.


        Charge at home.

        Use a SC station

        Use a pay to charge station

  • jstack6

    The wireless and land line phone companies have the same issue. When anything is free some take all they can. It’s a hard issue to control that is what a price, even small can help make everyone pay their fair share.
    It also happened with OIL, The US Subsidies OIL and has for 50 years with no end defined. So USA gas is $2-3 and in Europe it’s $8-12 a gallon. How is that right or fair. How can they stop it? What a mess.

  • vike

    I guess technology evolves a lot faster than human nature. Now we know that not even Iron Man can escape the Tragedy of the Commons.

  • Alexander Vasilenko

    The only real fix is charging double market rate on electricity to make profit. This will give Tesla a constant stream of income, making investors happy, relieve demand on the chargers, and encourage competition. Parking garages would take advantage by offering fast charging stations that cost slightly less than a Tesla Supercharger.