Updates in electric driving

By Allen Penticoff

Ahh… all good things seem to come to an end. And the notion that folks driving expensive electric cars needed encouragement to buy them via providing free electricity will soon be coming to an end.

On November 7, Telsa Motors issued a press release indicating that beginning with cars ordered after January 1, 2017 they will only be able to have 400 kWh of complimentary Supercharger power, good for about 1,000 miles of driving range. The new, less expensive Model 3, has never been intended to be sold with the benefit of free Supercharger power.

These cars can still be charged quickly along highway routes, but a small fee will be charged to the owner, and will vary with the supply cost of the electricity. Tesla claims that it will still be less expensive than filling up an equivalent tank of gasoline and that it is not their intent to make a profit on supplying electricity to Tesla owners. They say your best bet is to charge at home and not depend on Tesla for free power.

Owners of older Teslas will still be provided free Supercharger power. So if you think you want a Tesla S and can use the benefit of free Supercharging, you may want to buy your car now. Cars built between January 1 and April 1, 2017 if ordered in 2016 will still have free charging.

Tesla embarked on this ambitious program to provide fast charging at places strategically located to provide easy access to interstate highways and a spot where there is someplace to hang out while the car is charging for a half-hour or so. This was envisioned as a way to eliminate the problem for electric cars of not being able to drive long distances. With this established nationwide network, a Tesla (no others) owner can drive completely across the country on electricity and up until now, no cost. This certainly encouraged the well-heeled consumers to buy Tesla cars.

Tesla has received complaints about long lines and unavailability at its Superchargers. Some of this is because owners are not charging at home, but taking advantage of the free power available at the Supercharging stations. I have spoken to limousine business owners who were proud that their business used Teslas and conveniently located their office next to a supercharger. I have no doubt there are many Uber and Lyft drivers out there who own Teslas and hang out at the Supercharger waiting for rides to appear on their phones. Ordinary folks will do the same thing – use a public charging station that is near their home to get free electricity. And people who may commute to work, and who could make the round trip on the range they have from leaving from home will often plug into their business or public chargers anyway and leave their cars there all day preventing others from using the charger.

So I agree with Tesla that there should not be free charging. Putting in charging stations, even lowly Stage II charging is expensive. There need to be more of them to encourage electric vehicle use, and I think if owners had to pay for their electricity, they’d be less likely to hog a charging station, or use it at all if they did not really need it to extend their driving range. I’d also like to see more wireless charging as well. It can all happen without a cord or plug, without a credit card swipe. Drive into the charging spot. System knows your car. You get billed for the power. Simple.

Here in Rockford we have few public charging options, so you pretty much have to depend on your vehicle’s own battery range to get by. There are two charge points at Nicholas Conservatory/Sinnissippi Park. There are three charge points at Camelot Towers. There are a pair at Bachrodt Chevrolet. Lastly, the most inconvenient one is at ComEd offices in the southwest corner of Rockford. All are free except the ComEd one (figures). There may be others I’m not aware of. I’ve been to all of these.

I still love driving on electricity. I will continue to champion it. But expecting free charging, or even public charging at all should not be part of your plan.

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