Tesla on Monday introduced a handful of proprietary quick-charge stations across California, Nevada and Arizona with free charging for Model S owners that spring for the optional hardware.
The California automaker disingenuously markets the technology as "supercharging." Of the three battery strengths on the Model S — 40 kWh, 60 kWh and 85 kWh — supercharging hardware is unavailable on the 40 kWh, optional on the 60 kWh and standard with the 85 kWh.
The six stations allow Model S owners "free long-distance travel indefinitely," Tesla says. Each station will comprise a carport with multiple solar-powered chargers that gather enough electricity year-round to accommodate periodic charges by Model S owners, but The New York Times reports just two of the six are fitted with solar panels right now. The other four run off grid power.The stations replenish some 180 miles of highway range at 60 mph in just 30 minutes — probably less when you cruise at 70 or 80 mph. Tesla plans to build more stations across major corridors by the end of 2013: Vancouver to San Diego, Miami to Montreal and Los Angeles to New York. Europe and Asia will get their own networks in the second half of 2013, Tesla says.
The Model S supports Tesla's proprietary quick-charging instead of conventional DC quick-charge ports, and our quick-charge field trial revealed built-in timeouts well before you reached a full charge, which can make for dubious pricing. The option to quick-charge an EV closer to full without paying for multiple sessions makes sense, and Tesla says its charging network works substantially faster than existing DC stations, which add 60 to 80 miles of range in 20 minutes to a typical light-duty EV. The Model S has an adaptor that connects to Level 2 (240-volt) public chargers.
The U.S. currently has 4,592 electric charging stations, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, but it's unclear how many of them are Level 2 versus DC quick-charge units. (Level 1, or the slowest charging, uses a three-pronged household outlet.)
The EPA has certified the 85-kWh battery's range in the Model S at 265 miles, but the 40 kWh and 60 kWh batteries are still pending certification. Tesla claims 160 and 230 miles, respectively, but we'd expect those ranges to decrease under EPA certification, especially since the automaker originally claimed 300 miles on the 85-kWh battery.