We've previously talked about home charging and about range anxiety in previous electric dreams features, looking at the very real world of life with an electric car. Now we turn our attention to something close to the heart of life with a Tesla: the Supercharger network.
There's always been a lot of talk about Superchargers. To an outsider it might seem like a small matter, but it really isn't: Tesla has a huge advantage in the Supercharger network.
While many EV owners will have a charger at home, meaning they can leave the house with a full charge, that's not possible for everyone and it doesn’t help you once you start looking to drive beyond the range of your car.
That's when public chargers become the lifeblood of your car and we know that can lead to a very mixed experience.
The ecosystem advantage
We've often said that Apple has an ecosystem advantage - designing the software for the hardware, tailoring services native to the system and a range of accessories that just dovetail in. Take how wonderful it is to have your AirPods already recognised by your iPad when you first connected them to your iPhone. It's ecosystem.
For Tesla, that ecosystem advantage is in its Superchargers - chargers that are in place for Tesla drivers and Tesla drivers only.
Most of the Ecotricity Electric Highway chargers on the UK's motorway network are 50kW, but Tesla's are 120kW. Most Ecotricity chargers have one or two connections while most Superchargers are installed in banks, so there may be many more connections to charge from, like ten.
But there's also a seamless simplicity to the Supercharger network. Your Tesla knows where the chargers are and can route you via a Supercharger if you will need it to continue your journey. If you're navigating to a Supercharger, your car can also start pre-conditioning the battery as you approach it, because it knows what you're doing.
Sure, other electric cars can route via chargers, but there's a wide range of networks and we've found that often there are chargers that are missing on the mapping in cars, so it isn't as slick an experience.
But beyond that, charging with a Supercharger is easier than wrestling with the huge variation in public chargers currently in the UK. There are a lot of networks, a lot of different connections, some have apps, some have direct payment, some have keyfobs or cards. While it's easy enough to roll-up to a Polar Network charger and tap your card and get charging - it's still a step more than you need with Tesla.
You see the Supercharger recognises the car and will either deduct from your Supercharger credits (which some cars have), or just bill your account, with the details reported on the display in your car. There's also one app, and only one app - the Tesla app - which not only connects to your car, but also can control and report on charging.
The experience, then, for a Tesla driver, is much smoother than it is for those electric car drivers battling with multiple different networks - the ecosystem advantage.
How long will this advantage last?
Tesla knew it had to get chargers in place to make electric cars practical - and for a number of years, the electric car story has mostly been about Tesla. But now that there are some big car companies getting involved, how quickly are things going to change?
While Tesla is starting to roll out the new V3 Superchargers (offering 250kW charging), the only model that can take advantage of those peak charging rates is the Tesla Model 3. The Tesla Model 3 in the UK also comes fitted with a CCS socket, meaning that Model 3 owners can also take advantage of any other third-party fast chargers they might find on the road.
And we're starting to see a lot more activity around higher capacity chargers from networks like Ionity.
Ionity is the group that's backed by BWM, Daimler, Ford and the VW Group. It's not insubstantial, but all these things take time. For example, there are currently three Ionity chargers (offering 350kW) charging in the UK and a fourth is under construction. Each site offers four connections, using the CCS connector.
While the network might offer peak charging at a faster rate than Tesla, even those existing sites have fewer charging options than a bank of Superchargers and as we said - if you happen to have a Tesla Model 3, you can use these chargers too, while no one else can use your Superchargers. (Model X and Model S have a Type 2 socket, but can be adapted to accept a CCS adapter at a cost of £425; there's also a CHAdeMO adapter for S and X.)
So at the time of writing, if you're looking to buy an electric car right now, then Tesla still has that advantage and it's going to take a while for anything else to be as seamless as the Supercharger network.
But what about off the beaten track?
Tesla's charging isn't just about Superchargers. As great as they are, they are mostly located in high traffic areas - motorways, airports, cities - and there are plenty of spaces where there's pretty long gaps between Superchargers. While some of these are being plugged as the network expands - there's also another system - Destination Charging.
Aptly named, these are chargers installed in places you might want to go. Lots of hotels, pubs and restaurants are now installing Tesla Destination Chargers. Take the local area around Pocket-lint HQ - The Royal Berkshire Hotel offers a connection for customers (and asks you call in advance to use it) while the Pennyhill Park Hotel has destination chargers that are actually available to the public.
While destination charging is slower (AC, 7kW and 6kW respectively in our examples, but some are up to 22kW), it provides an option and opens up parts of the country with destinations. If you're stopping at the spa, restaurant or overnight, then it's a chance to charge your car.
But there's something better about destination charging: it's usually free if you're using the provider's facilities and it's not all limited to Tesla drivers - there's usually a designated connection for other EV drivers too. The network is impressive too, spreading into many more remote areas of the country.
Everyone living in or writing about the emergence of electric cars always comes back to the same point: in many cases, the infrastructure isn't there. Take one of the many excellent EVs for a long drive - Audi e-tron, Kia e-Niro, Hyundai Ioniq - and you'll have to have a multitude of accounts for the range of charging networks out there.
Tesla has something simpler right now. Knowing that there are larger banks of fast chargers on major routes around the country - and that you don't need extra cards or apps to use them - is a huge advantage in the experience is living with an electric car.