Tesla Motors Inc. is expanding a network of fast-charging stations, letting owners of its luxury electric cars drive coast-to-coast this year with devices able to repower them in 20 to 30 minutes.
“We’re not just adding geography, we’re adding density on well-traveled routes,” Musk said. “You’ll be able to drive all the way from Los Angeles to New York just using the supercharger network.”
Tesla needs a broader network of charging stations to appeal to customers beyond California and the northeastern U.S., where it now has fueling spots. Without such stations, Tesla drivers are limited by the estimated 265-mile (426-kilometer) range of a battery charge.
The initial batch of new stations is being added in California; between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas, to Dallas; Illinois; and Colorado, the company said. They cost about $300,000 each, including solar panels, Musk said.
“Within six months the Tesla supercharger network will connect most of the major metro areas in the U.S. and Canada,” Tesla said in yesterday’s statement.
Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California, rose 0.3 percent to $104.95 at the close yesterday in New York. Tesla has gained 210 percent this year, compared with a 16 percent increase for the Russell 1000 Index.
Nine stations now provide free electricity for Model S owners, and the company plans to have stations covering “almost the entire population of the U.S. and Canada by next year,” Tesla said in the statement. The electric-car maker’s previous goal of 100 stations by 2015, is now happening “twice as fast as originally planned,” Musk said on the call.
“I think more superchargers will help alleviate concerns about range anxiety, so it is probably a wise use of cash,” said Ben Schuman, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, who rates Tesla sector perform. “It is hard to argue that more charging infrastructure does not benefit Tesla owners.”
The announcement by Musk, who is also Tesla’s biggest shareholder, follows a series of events this month that put Tesla on the most secure financial footing since its founding a decade ago.
The carmaker’s first quarterly profit was followed by a top rating from Consumer Reports for the Model S and a share-price surge. Investor demand created an opportunity to raise $1 billion from selling equity and debt and retire its U.S. Energy Department loan nine years early.
While Tesla operates in the premium auto segment, there is some “spillover” impact for all plug-in and electric vehicles as the company’s fortunes improve, said Tom Turrentine, director of the California Energy Commission’s Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center at the University of California, Davis.
“This makes electric fuel and electric cars cool, gives them some cachet,” Turrentine said. “The charge network is probably a relatively minor expense for Tesla, but it contributes to a big, positive story.”
The carmaker named for inventor Nikola Tesla began opening the charging stations last year, including six on California highways and three in Connecticut and Delaware, according to Tesla’s website.
Currently, they allow a car to be repowered in a fraction of the time possible at home, providing 150 miles of driving range in about 30 minutes, with electricity flowing at about 400 volts. Fully recharging a Model S, priced from $69,900, takes as long as eight hours with a 240-volt home-charging system.
With 100 stations, Tesla could cover major cross-country highways such as Interstate 90, which runs from Seattle to Boston, and Interstate 80, which stretches from San Francisco to Teaneck, New Jersey, each with about 20 stations each if they are placed every 150 miles. Interstate 75, which runs from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, might need about 12 stations.
At 150 miles per charge, a Tesla driver could cover the distance from Los Angeles to New York with stops at fewer than 20 charging stations, depending on the route. A driver of a traditional car with a 400-mile range, could make the drive with as few as seven tanks of gas.
“Tesla continues to make headway in eliminating the fear of range anxiety for consumers who are hesitant to purchase an electric vehicle,” said Alec Gutierrez, an Irvine, California- based senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “Until a network is built nationwide that doesn’t require consumers to wait several hours for their vehicle to recharge, there will still be consumers who will stay on the sidelines and purchase more mainstream vehicles.”
The ability to drive an electric car coast to coast isn’t as essential as making standard public chargers more ubiquitous, said Don Anair, research director for the Clean Vehicles Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley, California.
“Most people don’t go that far from home on a regular basis, but want to know they’ll have no difficulties using their vehicles under normal circumstances,” Anair said.
Use of Tesla’s supercharger is standard with high-end versions of the Model S, which feature an 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack and are priced from $79,900. One with a 60- kilowatt-hour battery can use the chargers as a $2,000 option.
Owners repower their cars for free at the stations, using electricity produced by solar panels installed and maintained by SolarCity Corp., where Musk is also the chairman and largest investor.
While not all the superchargers initially will get power from solar panels, that feature will be added over the long term, Musk said yesterday. They’ll also have battery packs to store electricity and be fully off the electrical transmission grid, he said.
Drivers will be able to use the stations even in the event of a “zombie apocalypse,” he said.
For now, the charging network may be more of a novelty for some wealthy Model S owners, Turrentine said.
“In reality many of the people who’ll use them are guys who would normally fly in their personal jets,” Turrentine said. “They can now drive between Palo Alto and L.A. or Las Vegas, and then tweet about it.”
Copyright 2013 Bloomberg
Lead image: EV charging sign via Shutterstock