Will Tesla pay for taking its free Supercharger USP away?

Image of Neil Thomason
Author: | Updated: 13 Dec 2016 13:48

It was good while it lasted. Not only could you get a stunning car with insane acceleration and a bunch of features hitherto unheard of in a car, but to sweeten the deal you also got free ‘super’ charging for life.

Not anymore. Or at least not for the uninitiated. Starting from the middle of January 2017, anyone buying or leasing a new Tesla Model X or Model S and hoping to plug in to the company’s network of free fast-charging stations won’t be able to do so for free - and with that comes a variety of issues.

Tesla Supercharger- Maidstone

Tesla Model S and Model X cars ordered after 15 January 2017 will receive 400kWh of Supercharger credits per annum, which amounts to around 1,000 miles of (conservative) driving. Once you’ve reached that limit, there will be a small fee to Supercharge.

In North America, pricing is fixed within each state or province. Internationally, pricing is fixed within each country, which means you’ll be paying around 0.20p kWh in the UK. To put the pricing into perspective, Tesla says customers will pay around $15 for a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, about $120 from Los Angeles to New York, about €60 from Paris to Rome, and about ¥400 from Beijing to Shanghai.

Of course, if you’ve ordered your car recently (or plan on doing so before the cut off point) these changes don’t immediately affect you, as long as delivery is taken before 1 April 2017. But if you’ve put money down on a Model 3 you will not qualify either, as it’s not classed as an order, it’s a deposit.

Tesla Supercharger Network Europe 2016

More money = more Superchargers?

Still a super network?

And where will this new revenue stream be going? Tesla plans to reinvest the money into more Superchargers for its network (there were 4,749 at 751 stations at the end of 2016). It has also stated the network will never be seen as a profit centre.

While the move toward *ahem* charging users to replenish their battery is a sign that the company is moving away from niche luxury manufacturer to mass market, a large chunk of the brand’s appeal has been taken away – especially when range anxiety is still a concern for many people.

What’s more, Tesla drivers have been voicing dissatisfaction recently about how crowded the super-fast chargers are becoming. One owner tweeted Elon Musk complaining of inconsiderate parking. Musk admitted that it is “becoming an issue” and the company will “take action” against Tesla drivers who hog stations.

To this end, Tesla has recently announced plans to introduce a Supercharger Idle Fee across all of its stations in a bid to cut queues.

According to the support article, owners will be notified by the Tesla app once their car is fully charged. For each additional minute the car remains plugged in the owner will be hit with a fee of 30p per minute.

However, if the car is removed within five minutes of being notified the fee will be waived. Any charges will be billed at the owners next Service Centre visit.

In the article, Tesla said: “A customer would never leave a car parked by the pump at a gas station and the same thinking applies with Superchargers.”

Manufacturer partnership installing 400 ultra-fast universal charging sites across Europe

Manufacturer partnership installing 400 ultra-fast universal charging sites across Europe

The move to end universal free charging for all could be seen as a comparative way of Tesla heading off any cost-decisions made by BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen Group following recent news of their joining forces to create their own fast-charge network.

This somewhat seems counterproductive though as surely the unique USP of free charging for life could have gone a long way to offset any challenge these manufacturers will pose in the near future, as they invest more and more money into infrastructure and concepts such as the Volkswagen I.D. and Mercedes’ Generation EQ.

Mercedes-Benz-Generation-EQ-front

Could the Mercedes-Benz EQ find itself going head to head with a future Tesla model?

Residual value questions

Perhaps the biggest concern of Tesla taking away one of its biggest selling points is the matter of residual values, which affects so many different things in the automotive world.

Although current owners or lessees can still benefit from free unlimited access, the benefit passes on with the vehicle. So if you sell on your old Model S or your lease deal ends, even if you move into a brand new Tesla deal, it seems that you will lose your free access.

And will this access mean that the value of a Tesla Model S or Model X ordered before 1 January 2017 is considerably more than one ordered on 2 January 2017? By essentially locking long-term owners into keeping their older model in order to take full advantage of free charging, the company is offering customers one less reason to upgrade.

How will these questions over residual values affect future lease prices for new Teslas, will they be comparatively more expensive post 1 January 2017?

Future plans

As we approach the launch of Model 3, Tesla believes the update to its Supercharging programme will enable it to greatly expand the network and provide customers with the “best possible user experience”, while bringing “sustainable transport to even more people”.

Elon Musk is very confident this is the right direction to travel. Only time will tell if it’s a wrong turn.

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