AUSTRALIAN Tesla owners will soon only be eligible for a single free return trip from Sydney to Melbourne once the Californian carmaker does the unthinkable – charging owners for top-ups that once cost nothing.
Tesla announced overnight that it was changing the model used for its Superchargers – a rapid-recharge station that can add 200km of range to a Tesla’s battery in about half an hour– to introduce fees for repeated use.
A regular single-phase wall charger, by comparison, only adds around 20km of range in the same time.
The chargers are unique to the Tesla Model S liftback and the gullwing-doored (Tesla calls them Falcon doors) Model X people mover, meaning if Tesla owners want a fast charge, they need to visit a Supercharger station.
However, Aussie buyers still have a chance to tap into the current free juice deal offered to existing owners – as long as they order a car before the end of this year and take delivery before April, they will still be able to top up as much as they want.
After that date, owners will get the first 1600km of charging for free, and then have to pay “a small fee [that will] cost less than the price of filling up a comparable gas car” for every other visit to a Supercharger. The fee will increase incrementally, it said.
Australia’s Supercharger network includes a string of the units stretching from Sydney to Melbourne – a so-called electric Hume – that allows owners to drive between the state capitals via Canberra with minimal disruption.
The Supercharger network will allow Tesla owners to top their battery up to 100 percent, but tipping in the extra 20 percent of capacity doubles the charge time to about an hour, as the amount of current used has to drop dramatically to avoid overheating the batteries.
Charging for electricity to top up an electric car or plug-in hybrid is seen as a barrier among carmakers to buyer acceptance of the technology – made necessary because cars that can run on battery power alone can avoid steep congestion fees in heavily populated cities such as Paris and London.
In contrast, offering it for free is viewed as a marketing tool to attract the high net worth owners that are prepared to pay the more premium price that electric and plug-in hybrid cars attract – a factor not lost on some recharging networks that encourage carmakers to bundle free public charging station access with their vehicles.
An industry insider told Wheels that a free public recharger in the right location was likely to more than make up for the cost of the electricity used.
“If you have a free charging station at a shopping centre, and someone uses $5 in electricity but spends $200 in the hour that the car is recharging, that’s where the benefit is,” she said.
Tesla said it still expected owners of its cars to do most of their recharging either at home or work, while the Supercharger was of more use to long-distance travellers.
“For travelers, the Supercharger network has become a powerful, unique benefit of Tesla ownership,” it said.
Tesla said it did not make a profit from its Supercharger network.