Tesla's Supercharger network is a massive moat.
Building an electric vehicle charging station is not a simple task. And the task becomes even harder if you're planning to build a network of charging stations around the world. According to a UBS report published in early 2017, the cost to build a Supercharging station is a cool $250,000.
- This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Posted by Shankar Narayanan. The opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs.
Above: A Tesla supercharger on display (Flickr: Werner Bayer)
When Tesla started selling its cars, it would've been more than happy to get a third party to share the burden of building charging stations. But who else would've been ready to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars (per station) and wait years before recouping their investment? Add the fact that electric cars, like Tesla, were viewed as huge unknowns ten years ago — no one really knew, at the time, how car buyers accustomed to a gas-powered paradigm would respond to an alternative technology.
A vicious cycle ensued.
Without a charging network, long-distance travel would have remained a pipe dream, and without long-distance travel, Tesla would find itself tagged as a city car, thereby reducing demand. And without demand, Tesla couldn't expand its charging network.
Tesla knew this early on — they'd have to "go it alone" without any outside support. So the company took the burden upon itself to build a network of Supercharging stations.
Thankfully, Tesla’s grand ambitions sparked the company to invest in an ever-growing Supercharger network over the years. By the end of 2014, Tesla had just 280 Supercharger stations worldwide; by 2016, it had grown to 790 stations; and by June 2019, Tesla increased that number to 1,587.
Tesla may have repeatedly missed its own expansion targets, but the data above shows that the company has been steadily expanding its footprint of Supercharging stations all around the world, while implementing technology improvements to reduce charging time.
Above: Time spent at superchargers continues to decrease with Tesla's advancements (Source: Tesla)
Tesla introduced V3 Supercharging in March 2019, a new charging architecture that allows Tesla's cars to charge at up to 250 kW rate. According to Tesla, “At this rate, a Model 3 Long Range operating at peak efficiency can recover up to 75 miles of charge in 5 minutes and charge at rates of up to 1,000 miles per hour.”
Tesla may have only doubled the size of its Supercharger network between December 2016 and June 2019, from 790 stations to 1,587 stations, but if the company upgrades all its stations to V3 Superchargers, it would essentially double the strength of its network, as V3 superchargers offer a 50% improvement in charging time compared to the company's previous-generation supercharging tech.
“We expect the average charging session at our powerful V3 Superchargers will drop to around 15 minutes, which will effectively double the overall throughput rate per stall compared to our V2 superchargers, easily keeping pace with our fleet growth,” the company said in its 2Q 2019 shareholder letter.
Five minutes to gain 75 miles of charge is a major achievement as it will have a huge impact on Tesla (and EV) adoption in the future. According to the American Driving Survey published in 2015, “On average, Americans drive 29.2 miles per day, making two trips with an average total duration of 46 minutes.”
A five-minute pit stop at a V3 Supercharger station is more than enough to power two days of driving (on average). Tesla already reduced range anxiety from its customer base by offering long-range vehicles, and every additional supercharging station will continue to strengthen customer confidence and the charging network. Tesla's only real challenge regarding Supercharging network expansion will be to keep pace with its sales growth.
Author Bio: Shankar Narayanan is the editor of 1redDrop.com. Has an MBA from Kent State University and an engineering degree from Madurai Kamaraj University. He has been an active contributor to top financial sites like SeekingAlpha and GuruFocus, and has a penchant for talking business, finance, and technology.