Nearly every major automaker now has some kind of all-electric Tesla fighter in the works. And while they may very well soon catch up with Tesla on a product level, what may prove far harder is matching the convenience and infrastructure of the Tesla Supercharger network. Owners of Tesla vehicles get access to the fastest, highest-power network of DC fast chargers, spaced sensibly for long-distance travel and offering a consistent user experience from station to station. That access has been free and unlimited until now, but buyers who place an order for a new Tesla Model S fastback or Model X crossover from this week on no longer enjoy an all-you-can-charge buffet; instead, they face a billing plan.
The per-minute rates are broken into two tiers. Tier 1 applies while cars are charging at or below 60 kW—or when two cars are sharing a Supercharger—while Tier 2, which costs double the amount of Tier 1, applies when charging above 60 kW. Tesla notes that actual charging rates depend on battery charge level, climate conditions, and current use of the Supercharger station. And the new fees vary widely by state (reflecting regional utility rates)—from 7 to 13 cents per minute at Tier 1 rates or 13 to 26 cents per minute at Tier 2 rates. Tesla Destination Charging—the generally slower chargers installed at restaurants, hotels, and other businesses—will remain free of charge to patrons, with the establishments themselves paying a per-charge fee.
A Perk, Not a Profit Center
Those fees are in the vicinity of what residential rate payers are charged—which amounts to a lot less than what other commercial charging networks collect for the same amount of energy. In November, when Tesla first announced its intention to end unlimited charging, it caged the announcement by saying that Supercharging “will never be a profit center.”
Tesla mailed out letters to some of the most frequent local Supercharger users in 2015, to much controversy, encouraging owners to plug in when they are close to home. The situation hadn’t improved last year, with owners in some regions complaining of insufficient access and long lines; and ahead of first deliveries of Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3, expected to sell in much higher numbers, the new plan will nudge owners to charge at home when they can.
Used Teslas Just Became a Better Value
Supercharging privileges, so far, have been a perk like no other—a bit like being handed an unlimited gas card that’s good for the life of the vehicle. It’s a benefit that could add up to $10,000 or more in electricity. As such, it could potentially buoy the values of older models. Tesla has specified that Model S and Model X vehicles come with “free Supercharger access for the life of the car,” and Tesla communications manager Alexis Georgeson confirmed to C/D that unlimited Supercharger privileges follow the vehicle, not the owner.
Originally Tesla had set the ordering deadline to get unlimited Supercharging with a new-vehicle purchase as the end of 2016, with delivery to be taken by April 1, 2017; but it extended those deadlines by two weeks, to January 15 and April 15, to help accommodate those who couldn’t place orders during the holidays. For those who didn’t meet the deadline, the Tesla Model S and Model X already include a Trip Planner that helps plan routes to charging stations; pricing will be added to that feature with an upcoming update.