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.