Superchargers Restricted to Long Trips? Tesla Drivers Weigh In.

Is Tesla’s free Supercharger fast-charging network something that should only be used for long-distance travel and not for local “fill-ups”? Tesla CEO Elon Musk ignited a bit of controversy in the media and driver forums by suggesting that very thing in response to a question at the June 2015 Tesla shareholders meeting. He added that drivers who “aggressively” use the network for local charging may receive an email reminder that “it’s cool to do this occasionally but it’s meant to be a long distance thing.”

What do Model S drivers think about this? Is it a non-issue? Or, as at least one journalist has suggested, is Tesla “rewriting history” by changing its policy from ‘charge free anytime’ to ‘charge free if you’re on a trip?’

To find out, our PlugInsights research division surveyed 737 Tesla Model S drivers from its large EV research panel during the first week of July 2015. Here’s what they found:

First, it turns out only a little more than half of Model S drivers were even aware of Elon’s comments before they took the survey. After this, once everybody understood the basics of what Elon had said, two-thirds agreed, at least somewhat, that the statements were “not a cause for concern.” Only 4% “strongly disagreed.” So at first blush, it looks like a powerful majority lined up with Elon.

Digging deeper, we can see that more drivers are generally supportive a “no locals” policy.

Around half of Model S drivers agree, at least somewhat, with the hardline position that Superchargers should only be for long-distance trips. An even smaller 45% seems willing to label their fellow Model S drivers who charge locally “system abusers.” One likely reason why: in another PlugInsights survey of 367 Tesla owners conducted earlier in the year, 26% of Model S drivers said they had, at one time or another, used a Supercharger themselves as a free alternative to charging at home.

On the softer side of things, a healthy majority (70%) feels that Tesla is doing the right thing by advising against (rather than outright outlawing) local charging.

Why are most Model S drivers willing to lay off local Supercharging? One word: overcrowding.

While most aren’t too worried about Supercharger overcrowding today, it looks like a very serious concern for the future, with over 80% agreeing — at least somewhat — that a capacity crunch could be in the cards. Their concerns just might be well-founded. Recently, while in Munich, Elon announced that the upcoming populist “Model 3” Teslas will also get “free” access to the Supercharger network. Given that Tesla has announced a production goal of 500,000 cars per year in the latter half of this decade, charging network capacity is a challenge Tesla will need to manage very carefully. Faster charging speeds will help, as will a major increase in the number of Supercharger sites. But 70% of Model S drivers seem to be on board with the idea that discouraging local charging will also help take pressure off of future capacity bottlenecks.

In sum, it appears that most Model S drivers seem willing to self-police and do their part in the interest of preserving network capacity. There is, however, a smaller (and from the looks of some of the comments they left our researchers, rather vehement) faction that chafes at the idea of being asked to avoid local charging.

For more information, or to talk about commissioning custom PlugInsights survey research using the world’s largest EV driver panel, contact Norman Hajjar at norman@pluginsights.com.