The Tesla Supercharger: so much more than just free electricity

Tesla's Supercharger network gives its customers several advantages over other brands. Is it also a clue to the future of the car industry?

Tesla has done a remarkable job of building its brand from scratch, and in doing so it has repeatedly shown that it’s thinking bigger than just the vehicles themselves. Tesla has been highly unusual for car company, building its own infrastructure in the form of Supercharger stations — strategically positioned points (typically on the motorway/highway network) allowing Tesla drivers to fast recharge their batteries on the go (an 80% charge takes around 40 minutes, which is must faster than conventional public charging points).

In the UK, there’s a Tesla supercharger station at Hopwood Park services, on the M42 Motorway south of Birmingham, which I didn’t know about until I called in for fuel and coffee on my way back from a wedding at the weekend.

When we arrived, it was being used by three different Model Ss shown in our picture. In our work at CDR, we think a lot about the emotive value that design and services delivers to customers, and I got thinking about the value of the Supercharger network in this regard.

At a basic level, the Superchargers provide a function which makes it possible for Tesla drivers to cover large, cross-country distances almost as easily as you can with a gasoline or diesel powered car. As a bonus, the energy to do that comes free. The value? Tesla removes one of the key concerns many consumers have about using an electric car compared to one with an internal combustion engine — their limited (by range) utility.

But there’s more. Because Superchargers are for Teslas only — you can’t use them if you drive another type of plug-in car such as a Nissan Leaf or BMW i3 — the company creates a point of difference, an added — exclusive — benefit that isn’t on offer to drivers of other EVs. They’ve created a VIP club zone, that’s only accessible to Tesla drivers. They’ve created exclusivity.

But there’s a final factor, which is not often talked about and has little to do with the electric nature of a vehicle’s powertrain. The Tesla supercharger area is at the front of the car park at Hopwood park — directly to the right of the main service station building entrance. It’s in the prime parking position. Watch people drive around a service station or supermarket car park and you quickly realise that many drivers are circling, looking for a space as close to the front door as possible. In the case of Hopwood Park Supercharger, Tesla have created a pre-reserved, prime position parking zones that’s for Teslas only. Should another manufacturer come along and want to build their own brand-exclusive parking/charging area, it’s going to be further away from the front door. Tesla has — by stealth — created a ranking system, and has positioned itself — and its customers — at the head of the queue.

These are all small factors. Considered individually they may seem insignificant. But if you offered the qualities Superchargers offer (free fuel, exclusive pre-reserved parking, the best spot in the parking area) to any average driver, would it be of appeal? Of course. And does it give Tesla drivers a warm, superior, smug feeling? I don’t doubt it.

In the long run, what it foreshadows as the car market changes, is service as an important extension of the brand. Simply offering a fantastic and well designed car, is no longer going to be enough. Because beyond-vehicle services and privileges will become key drivers around what vehicle a customer chooses, which brand they have allegiance to and which services they subscribe to. Right now — regardless of what you think of the cars themselves — Tesla’s Supercharger network provides it with a hell of a head start over the competition.

posted by Joe Simpson


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