Tesla Motors has announced an extensive network of Supercharger stations that aim to make long distance travel a reality for owners of its Model S electric car. The chargers are some 4.5x faster than previous methods, making it possible for drivers to get half a full charge in as little as half an hour.
The Supercharger aims to address the three key issues surrounding electric cars – convenience, environmental impact and cost.
ConvenienceUp until now, the limited range of electric vehicles has made them entirely impractical for long distance travel. Tesla's Supercharger network will address this issue by making it possible to charge your Model S at a multitude of locations across the United States and beyond.
The first six Supercharger stations were constructed in secret in California prior to the reveal, and plans have been set in motion to construct more stations along high traffic corridors in the US next year. If all goes to plan, there will be more than 100 stations in the United States by 2015. The company also plans to begin installing Superchargers in Europe and Asia towards the end of 2013.
The stations charge at 100 kWh, with the potential to increase to 120 kWh in the future. What this means in real terms is that using the new Supercharger technology, drivers can get half a full charge on their Model S in just half an hour, giving it a range of around 150 miles.
This may still seem a little on the lengthy side, but not only is it a significant improvement on what has previously been available (a high-powered wall connector provides just 31 miles of range from a half-hour charge) but Tesla has worked to offset the issue by placing the stations in locations where you're likely to stop anyway, such as restaurants and shopping centers.
Environmental impactThe project's large scale wasn't the most compelling aspect of the announcement (though this is likely to be a key factor in its success). The real star of the show is the efficiency at which the stations operate. Not only do they charge more than four times quicker than the current Twin Charger method, but through the use of solar technology, they actually produce an excess of energy that's channeled directly into the grid. This makes the entire concept of the electric car more palatable to the general public.
Now for the big one: cost. During yesterday's presentation Elon Musk, Tesla Motors co-founder and CEO stated that “We are giving Model S the ability to drive almost anywhere for free on pure sunlight." You didn't misread that. Owners of the Model S won't have to pay for the service. This means that the vehicle is effectively a one-off cost, making owning an electric car far more financially viable than it has been in the past.
This might all sound too good to be true, and if truth be told, there are one or two minor catches. The first of these is the cost of the vehicle itself, with compatible versions of the Model S starting at a not-quite-so-accessible US$59,900. In addition to this, Supercharger compatibility is only standard on versions of the Model S that are equipped with an 85 kWh battery (it's an optional extra on the 60 kWh variant). The 85 kWh version of the vehicle comes in at $69,900.
The other issue is that the Supercharger locations are still too far apart to be considered truly convenient. This will still be true when all of the planned stations are up and running. However, given the benefits of the network, this is only a comparatively minor issue, and one that can only improve in time. We also have some concerns that the more Model S vehicles hit the tarmac, the longer the queues will get to use the Supercharger stations.
The Supercharger announcement was followed by the news that Tesla is struggling to meet the demand for its Model S vehicle. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the company is facing manufacturing difficulties linked to supplier delays and strict quality control measures. Production of the Model S is running between four and five weeks behind schedule, with less than 300 of the vehicles having rolled off the production line so far. Despite this, the company believes it can still meet its goal of producing 20,000 vehicles by the end of 2013.