If you’re a Tesla Model S driver, that great American rallying cry became a little more viable on Monday. The California electric vehicle maker launched its Supercharger network, stations placed alongside highways where Model S drivers can pick up 150 miles of driving range in 30 minutes.
The network begins with six locations, four between San Francisco and Los Angeles; one midway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe; and another along the route that connects Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Within a year, Tesla says, an expanded network will make cross-country travel possible.
The stations are powered by solar-covered carports (with a grid connection, we assume), and the solar arrays are robust enough that Tesla is claiming they will produce more energy over the course of a year than will be used to charge vehicles. The result, CEO Elon Musk said during a glittery webcast event on Monday: “You’ll be able to travel for free, forever, on pure sunlight.”
Free doesn’t come cheap, however: Supercharging is available standard with the Model S with the 85-kilowatt battery (and as an option for the 60-kW battery version), and the vehicle sells for $69,900 after a $7,500 federal tax credit.
Still, the concept is undeniably cool, and the Tesla magic man (Has the next Steve Jobs arrived? Alas, if only the company were hitting its production goals.) could be forgiven for hauling out the “game changer” label to describe it.
“Tesla’s Supercharger network is a game changer for electric vehicles, providing long distance travel that has a level of convenience equivalent to gasoline cars for all practical purposes,” Musk said. “However, by making electric long distance travel at no cost, an impossibility for gasoline cars, Tesla is demonstrating just how fundamentally better electric transport can be.”
(Question: Is a half-hour charge every 150 miles really “for all practical purposes” as convenient as a five-minute fill-up every 350 miles?)
Telsa says the Supercharger delivers power directly to the battery at nearly 100 kW (and could go up to 120 kw in the future). That’s around twice as powerful as the 50-kilowatt fast chargersthat other EVs like the Nissan Leaf can take advantage of in charging their much smaller batteries.
Meanwhile, the Supercharger network will grow, Tesla said: “By next year, we plan to install Superchargers in high traffic corridors across the continental United States, enabling fast, purely electric travel from Vancouver to San Diego, Miami to Montreal and Los Angeles to New York. Tesla will also begin installing Superchargers in Europe and Asia in the second half of 2013.
Here the splashy show Tesla put on to introduce the Supercharger network on Monday: