Tesla's Supercharger pricing: one owner reacts to new fees

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running - June 2015

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running – June 2015

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It’s a new era in Teslaworld: the end of unlimited free Supercharging.

Starting a few days ago, anybody who orders a new Tesla Model S or Model X will have to pay for use of the Supercharging fast-charging network, after an annual free allotment of 400 kilowatt-hours (good for about 1,200 miles).

Even high-rollers who put down $150,000 for a loaded P100D will have to pay the charging fees, which vary from state to state.

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In states that allow electricity sales by the kilowatt-hour, fees will range from 11 cents (Idaho) to 22 cents (Massachusetts) per kWh. Typically, those rates are a bit higher than the rates a Tesla owner would pay his local utility to charge at home.

In my home state of New York, for example, the Supercharger rate is 19 cents/kWh. At my house, I typically pay about 15 cents/kWh for electricity.

In states that don’t allow sales by the kilowatt-hour, Tesla owners will be charged by the minute.

Two different rates will apply: one for the typical Supercharger charging rates above 60 kW, and a lower one for charging below 60 kW, which occurs when the battery is nearly full or two cars are sharing a single charging circuit.  

The by-the-minute rates are set to roughly approximate the fee if figured on a by-the-kWh basis. Either way, a typical 60-kWh fill-up will cost $8-$12.

That works out to roughly 4-6 cents per mile.  Still way less than gas for a comparable car.

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Grandfathered In

As a Model S owner for nearly four years now, I’m not affected by the new fees, which apply only to cars ordered from now on. Elon promised us “free Supercharging for life” back in 2012, and he’s sticking to that promise for those of us who own 2012 through 2016 vehicles.

As a heavy Supercharger user—about 10,000 miles a year, including at least one coast-to-coast round trip a year—I was naturally relieved to hear that, as long as I keep my car, I can continue to enjoy the benefits of free Supercharging.

While there’s an undeniable financial benefit—10,000 miles of free Supercharging  saves me $300-$500 a year—I’ve found that the primary benefit of free Supercharging is psychological: it just feels great to drive into a Supercharger stall, recharge the battery, keep my credit card in my pocket, and drive away.

Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015

Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015

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During my first Supercharger road trip, down the East Coast to Florida in 2013, I had that giddy feeling that this was too good to be true—like I was getting away with something slightly nefarious.

I continue to take delight in revealing, to anyone who will listen, the total fuel cost of my most recent 7,000-mile round-trip coast-to-coast run: zero. 

Of course, Supercharging has never been really “free”—the cost is baked into the selling price of the car.

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Until recently, Supercharging capability was a $2,000 option on 60-kWh versions of the Model S. Presumably, the price of the 85-kWh Model S was $2,000 higher because it included Supercharging as standard.

In effect, we’ve all prepaid for about 40,000 miles worth of Supercharged driving.

But in my mind, it sure feels free.

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running - June 2015

Tesla Supercharger site in Newburgh, New York, up and running – June 2015

Enlarge Photo

Why a new policy?

It seems to me that prepaid “free Supercharging for life” was a great marketing tool that inspires tremendous brand loyalty. It certainly worked that way for me.

Tesla must have a compelling reason to change such a successful brand-building  policy, even though it insists that it will make no profit from the fees.

“Tesla is committed to ensuring that Supercharger will never be a profit center,” says the company website. “Supercharging is offered to our customers below the price that it costs to provide the service.”

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