Tesla's Supercharger Network Is a Game Changer

At least that's what the panelists of AOL Auto's "Technology of the Year" award said. The technology "ran away with votes for the award, clearly surpassing all of the other contenders." It would be tough to argue otherwise; the rapidly expanding network of electric-car charging stations for Tesla's (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) vehicles is purposed to upend an antiquated industry. Tesla's mission is "to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by brining compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible" -- and its rapid expansion of its charging network shows just how seriously it's taking this mission.

Superior charging
Tesla's Superchargers aren't like the typical charging station. Despite the impressive EPA-rated range of 265 miles for the Model S, Superchargers will juice the vehicle to a 50% charge in just 20 minutes, or 80% in 40 minutes. They're roughly 16 times faster than the typical public charging station.

Tesla's innovation in its Supercharger network, however, goes beyond a fast charge. The company is piloting battery swapping at some of its Supercharger stations. The technology allows owners to swap out their used battery for a fully charged battery in less than 90 seconds -- all without getting out of the vehicle. Notably, Tesla may charge some owners a nominal fee for the swap, and they will eventually have to return for their original battery.

The expansion
But the network is of very little help if a station isn't located within driving range.

"There's simply no way the average consumer is going to consider putting an electric vehicle in their garage if there's no way to refuel it on the go," managing editor of Autoblog Jeremy Korzeniewski told AOL.

But acknowledging Tesla's expansion that's already under way, Korzeniewski admitted, "If Tesla is able to continue rolling out long stretches of Superchargers, EVs will finally have the level playing ground that they need in order to have a chance at succeeding."

Indeed, Tesla is rapidly rolling out its network. In fact, a cross-country drive is already nearly feasible based on this open-source map that's tracking the U.S. expansion of Tesla's charging stations.

Red circles indicate completed Superchargers; cones indicate Superchargers under construction. The circles inscribed around the Superchargers shows the 265-mile range. Source: teslawiki.net.

Just how rapidly is Tesla expanding this network? At some point in 2015, Tesla plans to have Supercharger locations serving 98% of the U.S. population. Even in 2014, Tesla plans to have 80% of the U.S. population covered.

But the expansion goes beyond the U.S. Its Norway expansion is already complete, and Tesla is expanding rapidly in Germany, where it plans to have 100% coverage by the end of 2014. Tesla also expects to have 100% coverage by the end of 2014 in Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, and Luxembourg. It expects to have 90% of the population covered in England, Wales, and Sweden in 2014, too.

Changing the industry
Though there are plenty of critics betting against Tesla's planned attempt to launch an affordable electric car that can sell hundreds of thousands of units per year, the company is building charging stations as if it is certain that it will play a major role in the auto market in the future. The charging infrastructure will be in place before 2016 or 2017, the estimated time that Tesla has planned for the launch for its affordable electric car.

Tesla's aggressiveness in its global expansion plans should comfort shareholders. Trading at about 10 times sales, the company is going to need major growth to grow into its valuation. And a rapidly growing Supercharging network is laying the foundation for that potential growth.

AOL is right; the network changes the game. AOL Auto's mulimedia director, Adam Morath, sums the technology up eloquently: "With the Supercharger, Tesla is tackling the tired arguments against the electrification of the automobile head on by addressing range, charge times, charger accessibility and clean energy production (the Supercharger is powered by solar energy, not coal) all in one stroke."

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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 1:08 PM, ffbj wrote:

    Well I would not call the ice antiquated. Though just baseline efficiency means ev will win out eventually, the fuel cost is about 1/3 that of a ice.

    To me the supercharger is like a big advertising campaign that Tesla does not have to pay for.

    New videos come out about being the first to charge there and driving from Mexico to Canada all on the supercharging network. Late winter/early spring, Musk is planning a cross country trip.

    Press releases like 1 million miles charged, remind of another fabulous campaign...4 billion served.

    So it hits on all cylinders, what is the electric equivalent of cylinders?

    Practicality, environmentally friendly, range anxiety reduction, all rolled into one.

    In truth average drivers will rarely use them as 90% of all trips are less than 25mi.

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 2:52 PM, dalalsid wrote:

    I also did an analysis of how the superchargers can actually make money for Tesla here:

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/1935021-tesla-superchargers-...

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 10:05 PM, deeageaux wrote:

    Elon Musk said the price for swapping the battery will be equal to filling a premium sedan with premium fuel. About $80. Maybe if you can afford these sedans that is a nominal fee but most would not.

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2014, at 2:27 AM, ashaskevich wrote:

    I am glad Siddharth Dalal has put up a link to the article that he wrote about supercharging. One small note, nowhere in the article does it state that if you buy the Tesla Model S with the 85Kwh battery, Supercharging is free.

    Let me say that again, SUPERCHARGING IS FREE.

    If you buy the base model with the 60kwh battery pack, then supercharging is a $2k option, and everytime you supercharge your car there is nothing more to pay.

    So you get to make long road trips for free.

    One last time,

    SUPERCHARGING IS FREE!!!!

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2014, at 2:58 PM, thegreentreefrog wrote:

    Don't turn on the A/C or the heater, your range will drop to under 200 miles. The Tesla S @ 4,741 Lbs THE ELECTRIC PIG! Who would spend $75,000 on a car that could not win a race from NY to Philly against a 1971 Chevy Vega?

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2014, at 9:00 PM, toddsumner wrote:

    So lets do the math. A charging station consists of four charging outlets. If a typical recharging period is 30 minutes, then the number of vehicles it can charge is 8 vehicles/hour.

    It won't take long for the consumer to figure out that this is not convenient. You better figure on spending a day for every 420 miles.

    Of course, this is assuming that there are more than a couple of electric vehicles on the road at any give time.

    An all-electric vehicle is not a good solutions for long distance driving. Until the charging interval is reduced to less than 5 minutes, there is a small chance for success.

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2014, at 10:36 PM, CrazyDocAl wrote:

    20 minutes gets you a half charge. That's maybe 150 miles if you're careful. That's nto a game changer, that's a marketing ploy that most will ignore. So drive for 2 hours and spend 30 minutes or more dealing with getting to, charging your battery half full, and driving away. Plus how many of these chargers are within 100 miles of each other? If the answer is none then you are SOL unless you have the largest battery.Tesla sells.

    Why is it that a tiny company who's future is selling cars to the 1% seam to get so much attention. Until Tesla actually sells a car the middle class can afford they a just a niche company that isn't even making a profit. Sorry but they are years, if not a decade away from being a game changer.

  • Report this Comment On January 12, 2014, at 12:51 AM, EdwardInFlorida wrote:

    @CrazyDocAl. Trolling away again I see. If you're so jealous of Tesla, then don't click on any article with it's name on it, and be done with it! They won't miss you I guarantee it.

  • Report this Comment On January 12, 2014, at 3:05 PM, danwat1234 wrote:

    @thegreentreefog. If you use the AC range drops a little but not a lot. The electric freon compressor, the radiator fan and cabin fan doesn't take much energy.

    Maybe 800w.

    Yes if you use the heat, that can use a lot of energy, maybe 5,000 watts constantly if you have it cranked. the reason is because the Model S like most electric cars, use resistive heat (think of a hair dryer), very inefficient. The Leaf now has a heatpump option, which puts the energy consumption near what the AC power consumption would be. I hope the Model S and others get a heatpump soon so there won't be much of a range drop.

  • Report this Comment On January 14, 2014, at 4:39 AM, anderlan wrote:

    You don't even know the half of this. Tesla is not only in the car business but in the energy business. There's a story here that is as vital to our survival as a species as it is breathtakingly disruptive.

    In order to provide the MegaWatt of power needed by a typical supercharger station with most car slots full, Tesla has had to design battery banks and power electronics to avoid wreaking havoc on their electricity providers--a giant list of vendors in a giant list of regulatory jurisdictions. Instead of even worrying about all the specifics of purchasing such a special service from so many government-managed vendors, getting all that juice in the bursty manner in which it is needed by the vehicles, Tesla has likely decided to reduce the demands on those energy suppliers by moderating their power draw via battery banks.

    This network represents only perhaps 200 or so vehicle's worth of batteries taken from their production lines. 17 MegaWatt-hours of energy storage, able to produce 34-50 MegaWatts of power in an instant, and growing. Yet, taken as a loss leader, this is not a huge drain off of total sales.

    This is a direct attack on neighsayers of non-petrol transportation, and simultaneously on the neighsayers of time-shifting renewable energy. This is being done vertically integrated by one company, without an oversized impact on its bottom line. Tesla is not only a carmaker, it is a new oil company. The writing is on the wall. If Tesla fails, we all fail, or at most we succeed more slowly. Go Tesla, 100%, all the way!

  • Report this Comment On January 14, 2014, at 4:55 AM, anderlan wrote:

    @toddsummer Whatever. Tesla has its sales numbers and supercharging system very coordinated. It no doubt has an id on every vehicle and knows the exact charging patterns it needs to provide for. Most of the total energy of all customers comes from their houses at night. No one makes a 250 mile trip every day where they don't even come back to their house. Tesla is showing people how this whole electric car and time-shifted energy thing is going to work. It's not hard. One company can do it without breaking themselves. It's nothing compared to the fictitious hydrogen economy brainfart of last decade.

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