Tesla just announced that it’s expanding its Supercharger network of fast-charging stations to dense urban areas, starting with Boston and Chicago. If you don’t understand how that seemingly minor announcement could be the harbinger of the real electric revolution, then you don’t know jack.
First, the Huge News in a blog from Tesla:
Supercharger stations in urban areas will be installed in convenient locations, including supermarkets, shopping centers and downtown districts, so it’s easy for customers to charge their car in the time it takes to grocery shop or run errands. They also have the same pricing as our existing Superchargers, which is far cheaper than the cost of gasoline.
Superchargers in urban areas have a new post design that occupies less space and is easier to install, making them ideal for dense, highly populated areas. To increase efficiency and support a high volume of cars, these Superchargers have a new architecture that delivers a rapid 72 kilowatts of dedicated power to each car. This means charging speeds are unaffected by Tesla vehicles plugging into adjacent Superchargers, and results in consistent charging times around 45 to 50 minutes for most drivers.
And if you still don’t understand the implications here, allow me to explain.
Almost every carmaker that trots out an electric car is extremely stupid. “It’s small, and great for cities!” they squawk, because they haven’t actually thought about electric cars for more than half a second.
They’ve only been able to eke out a range of 200 to 300 miles at best at the moment, as opposed to normal gasoline ranges of more than 400 miles, thus, their thinking goes, electric cars are only good for short distances. And short distances, in their heads, mean “cities.”
So we get electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Bolt, which are ostensibly built for urban living and look like weird city-car-pods, instead of like vehicles that normal humans would want to drive.
But electric cars are actually TERRIBLE for cities. Which car companies would know, if they bothered to ask anyone who actually lived in a dense city.
The great conceit of electric cars is that you would never need to go to a gas station again, because each night you’d just pull into your garage in your house, and plug the car in. Boom, done.
But most people in cities don’t have houses, let alone garages. They live in apartments. If they’re fantastically lucky, their apartment building might have a parking garage in the basement they can use. And good luck in trying to convince your building super to fiddle with the building’s electrical system in the garage just to allow you to plug your electric car in every night.
So electric cars, which instead of being designed for cities are actually designed for no one, don’t sell well. And then we get a million takes from Big Thinkpiece on why Americans Don’t Like Electric Cars.
It’s not that we don’t like electric cars, it’s that we can’t have them. They just don’t make sense. If we wanted to own an electric car, we’d need some place outside our apartments where we could charge them, and fast.
We’d need something like Tesla’s Supercharger system, in fact, which could give us more than 100 miles of range in about 20 minutes in its current state, and which Tesla has been hinting will get much, much faster in the future.
Tesla’s Supercharger system has, until now, been limited to suburban areas and near big interstates, however. Which made sense, as the people who were buying decidedly upmarket cars like the Tesla Model S and Model X tended to live outside of urban areas and wanted the ability to take their cars on long road trips.
But as the mass-market Tesla Model 3 launches, city dwellers who previously couldn’t afford to get in on the action might now be able to get the electric car of their dreams. And even if they could afford a Model 3, they didn’t live in a home that would enable them to ever actually drive it.
And now, that’s changing. The first urban Superchargers are opening today in Boston and Chicago, with more promised soon.
Once every other carmaker realizes that they need an actual charging infrastructure, especially in cities, maybe they’ll start to sell electric cars in big numbers, too.
Though it might take them a while.