For Tesla Motors Inc., a Plan to Give Away the Supercharger Could Be Huge

Tesla Motors is thinking of allowing any electric car "fuel up" at its network of supercharger stations. Credit: Tesla Motors.

At the U.K. launch of the Model S, Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) co-founder Elon Musk said he wants an open-source standard for fast charging of electric cars. All electric cars, Engadget reports.

Why does that matter? Imagine the alternative. Let's say you buy a Leaf and your only option for "fueling up" is either via a wall outlet or a custom-designed Nissan station. Would driving be enjoyable, or a nerve-wracking race to outlast your battery?

We've seen parallels in the computer industry, whereby companies partner up to offer users a convenient standard for accessing information. Think of the Universal Serial Bus, or USB, which has become a go-to for connecting just about any sort of peripheral -- from a printer to a mouse or external hard drive. USB makes the overall computing experience better.

3 reasons Tesla should make an "open-source" supercharger
How soon might a charging standard emerge? I'd say years, if only because companies tend to find it easier to compete than cooperate. If Musk wants this badly enough, he may have to give away a few secrets in the process. In exchange, automakers will have to join Tesla in not charging electric car buyers for charging up.

Whether they would agree is hard to say at this point. Nevertheless, I see three business reasons why Tesla should get behind or even fund this effort:

1. More superchargers equals fewer objections. Innovators are always fraught with objections because they're challenging the status quo. It takes time and effort to convince buyers that the status quo isn't good enough or serving their interests. In this particular case, an open, more accessible supercharger network might help sway those who believe an electric car can't be trusted for longer trips.

2. Every convenience counts. No one buys a Tesla on impulse. Not because the company's cars aren't desirable -- they are -- but because it's an altogether different buying experience. Dealerships have given way to showrooms where you can luxuriate in a new Tesla. If you're lucky, you'll leave with your name on a months-long waiting list. Anything that makes the ownership experience better than the buying experience is good for business.

3. Goodwill is also good for business. For all his good intentions, Musk isn't one to shy away from a fight. His spats with reviewers and regulators have consistently made headlines. Helping to make it easier to refuel electrics could foster goodwill and make it easier to deal with bureaucrats.

Foolish final thoughts
Finally, it's easy to forget that Tesla is still in the early stages of seeding the market. Only 43% of some 800 gasoline buyers surveyed in November said they were looking forward to seeing more battery-powered electrics on the road while 58% said they would consider purchasing one. The message is that Musk and his team still have to convince almost half the buying population that they've built a viable product. An open, widely available charging network is a step in the right direction.

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  • Report this Comment On June 12, 2014, at 2:26 PM, damilkman wrote:

    I do believe this is significant. The Super Chargers are or will be on Interstate corridors and spaced presuming that the users have Tesla products. Until there is an EV with an equivalent range no one but Tesla owners will use it.

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