Buyers of the Tesla Model 3, the upcoming $35,000 mass-market electric car from the California automaker, could get free access to its Supercharger network of DC fast chargers—although, perhaps, if and only if they’re on a long-distance road trip.
Tesla recently announced plans to reel in free and unlimited use of its Superchargers, a perk that’s currently enjoyed by owners of the Model S sedan and the Model X crossover. Instead, those Tesla models ordered after January 1, 2017, or delivered from April 1, 2017, onward will come with a small amount (400 kWh) of free Supercharging annually, with additional charging amounts offered at a yet undisclosed fee.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk had previously hinted that access to its Supercharging network would be different for its third vehicle, the Model 3, when it arrives in late 2017. “For Model 3, from the beginning we said free unlimited charging is not included. Free long-distance is, but not free local,” he said.
Musk made the clarification this week as part of a Q&A session at the shareholder meeting for the company’s $2.6 billion merger with SolarCity. “It becomes really unwieldy for people to use the gas-station approach for electric cars,” explained Musk. “Electric cars should really be charged the way you charge your phone, but then you have to solve the long-distance problem, which is what the Supercharger stations will do.”
Given the limited availability of the Superchargers, Tesla has emphasized that they’re primarily intended as road-trip enablers (they can restore up to 170 miles of range in just 30 minutes), or as a local failsafe, for occasionally extending range when your normal charging routine doesn’t quite work. But not all owners heed that advice.
It’s been some time since the automaker released an update on how often its owners use Superchargers; in 2014, it disclosed that 5 to 10 percent of total miles covered by Tesla vehicles were enabled via its charging network. However, this past year the company sent a letter to some high-use owners, asking them to “decrease your local Supercharging and promptly move your Model S once charging is complete.”
Tesla hasn’t said how it’s going to discourage Supercharger use for local driving, although giving owners a bigger fast-charging allowance when they’re roaming outside their normal driving areas could be an elegant way to do it.
The concern about fast-charging availability isn’t unique to Tesla. As charging networks prepare for an onslaught of electric vehicles with long driving ranges, slated to arrive in 2018 and 2019, the greater charging times for their larger batteries are a concern, as is regular local use of fast charging. To keep fast chargers open to out-of-towners and those who truly need it, expect to see fewer unlimited-charging offers.