AMSTERDAM – Matthijs van Seventer won’t take his Model S electric sedan to the Tesla charging station in the southeast part of the city if he is in a hurry. The chargers are typically loaded with taxicabs serving Schiphol airport.
“It’s barely viable,” he said standing near a row of superchargers, which for Tesla owners are the equivalent of gas pumps to quickly recharge their battery-powered vehicles. “When I arrived there was just one spot left.”
Mr van Seventer’s frustration reflects a rare rift in what has typically been a cozy relationship between Tesla Motors and its thousands of owners around the world.
Free charging at company-run stations is one of a handful of unique incentives aimed at Tesla owners. Federal and local tax credits are available in many markets, and in some cities, including Oslo, Norway, electric vehicles can drive in high-speed lanes normally reserved for buses.
A Tesla charging station in Nephi, Utah. Free charging is one of the incentives the firm offers to Tesla owners.
Even as Tesla has poured millions of dollars in creating a global network of free charges, owners of the $76,200 and up luxury sedans feel there still aren’t enough. Mimi Kim Jamil recently slipped into the last spot at the San Juan Capistrano (California) Supercharger station where there are eight stalls and plugged in her 85 kilowatt-hour Model S. A moment later, two other Model S drivers pulled in behind.
Superchargers can recharge 80% of an 85 kilowatt-hour battery in about 30 minutes. While that’s much longer than the about five minutes needed to refuel a gasoline-powered car, it is more than 10 times faster than a typical Tesla home charger.
“I felt bad for them,” Ms Jamil said, noting that the other seven Model S sedans were unattended, a sign that their owners may be picking up items at the nearby shopping center while their cars charged. The two drivers needing to charge “were just waiting, waiting, waiting.”
Tesla is installing superchargers at a rate of about one new station a day around the world to keep up with sales that have reached 60,000 vehicles since it launched three years ago. The company’s pipeline includes a sport-utility vehicle launching this fall, and ambitions to sharply increase annual sales through 2020.
Sales growth could put additional strain on the Tesla Supercharger network that currently includes 453 stations and 2,519 chargers, which are capable of cutting charge times from several hours to about 40 minutes. “Tesla sales will drop if they don’t build more supercharger stations,” said Roger Chou in San Diego, who has ordered a Model X, but has been driving his brother’s Model S. “If they want to start charging people, that is fine, but be clear about it, so people can make their decision before spending $100,000-plus on a car.”
The trend has caught the attention of chief executive Elon Musk. During the company’s annual shareholder meeting in June, he indicated the Superchargers are too often being used by people who are driving around town instead of those needing energy for longer road trips, creating lines of people waiting for juice. “There are a few people who are quite aggressively using it for local supercharging,” he said. “We’ll sort of send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do this occasionally, but it’s meant to be a long-distance thing.”
That didn’t sit well with some owners, because use of the chargers is included in the price of a Tesla, and advertised as being “free for life.” While many of its rivals spend big money on advertising, Tesla has invested millions of dollars in charging stations meant to be an extra incentive for buyers to consider its pricey electric car.
After Mr Musk addressed the issue at the shareholders meeting, about 500 comments reacting to his stance were made on my.teslamotors.com before site administrators closed it. At that point, the forum on Tesla’s official website was restricted to car owners, who were asked to not speak to the press for fear of airing the issue publicly.
Tesla is looking for solutions and has taken additional action beyond sending the letters Mr Musk referenced. Recognising the cabs in Amsterdam might cause a problem, the company built a private supercharger for one of the cab companies operating Teslas; but cabs still use the public stations. “We continue to build out our supercharger network to provide the current and future needs of our customers,” Tesla said in a statement in response to the query on how the company will address supercharger use in the future.