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Tesla Will Charge Users for Hogging the Supercharger

Automobiles On Display At The Auto Mobil International ShowAutomobiles On Display At The Auto Mobil International Show

In an announcement Friday, Tesla said it will impose a fee of forty cents per minute on drivers who leave their cars in a Supercharger space for more than five minutes after they’ve finished charging.

Since many Superchargers are located at what are essentially parking spaces, it’s not too surprising some users treat them as such. The goal of the fee is to get those squatters to move along, making the chargers more available for all Tesla drivers. Tesla says they “hope to never make any money” from the fee.

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Tesla’s Supercharger infrastructure is an underappreciated aspect of its strategy, and it’s entering a delicate new phase. Tesla first started building the charging stations in 2012, and the network now includes 769 stations across the U.S. and Canada. The network itself was a selling point for the cars, since many electric car buyers are nervous about finding a charge when on the road. Until recently, all Tesla buyers were given free charging for life at these stations.

But Tesla has passed some important milestones that change the role of the Supercharger network. Sales of Tesla’s existing vehicles have ramped up dramatically over the past year, and it’s sitting on reservations for close to 400,000 of its upcoming Model 3. Tesla is currently making cars at a rate of about 100,000 per year, but aims to make 500,000 a year by 2018.

So where free and plentiful charging was once an answer to buyers’ anxieties over electric cars, the new problem is how to make room for all those cars on a finite number of chargers. The network is set to roughly double in 2017, but clearly Tesla thinks it also needs the idling fee to make sure charging stations are available when they’re needed.

In another sign of this shifting agenda, it was announced last month that starting in 2017, new Tesla buyers would have to pay for Supercharging, instead of getting it for free.

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No details about pricing have emerged, but that move hints at another long-term play inherent in the Superchargers. Tesla open-sourced its patents in 2014, encouraging other companies to build cars using its technology—including its charging plugs. While no company has yet taken them up on the offer, in the future it might prove tempting to build cars compatible with Tesla’s extensive charging network.

That would leave Tesla owning, in essence, the gas stations of the next generation. And as Tesla puts it, “a customer would never leave a car parked by the pump at a gas station.” In other words—move along.