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Tesla expands electric-car charger network

Thu, 30 May 2013

Tesla 20-minute “superchargers” will blanket the U.S. and Canada within two years, CEO Elon Musk said Thursday. Musk announced plans to greatly upgrade and expand the number of its superchargers in and between population centers of the United States and Southern Canada to link major cities via free electricity.

Musk said Tesla will start by tripling the number of charging stations from the current eight -- six in California and two on the East Coast -- by the end of next month, adding stations in California as well as Vancouver; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Dallas; Illinois; Colorado; and four more spots on the Eastern Seaboard.

The new network will provide "… a sense of freedom, the ability to go almost anywhere,” Musk said.

Within six months, there will be enough charger stations in place to drive from LA to New York in a Tesla Model S.

The charge rate at each station will also improve, going from the current 90 kilowatts to 120. The problem with the current 90-kw chargers is they start rapidly but then the charge rate tapers off, Musk said. The charge rate on the new 120-kw charger doesn't taper off until much later in the charge. The new units will allow three hours of driving from a 20-minute charge.

“Expect the average stop time to drop in half,” Musk said.

The increased rate of charge won't affect the battery life or the warranty on the battery, Musk said.

You can see the map of planned stations here. Be sure to move the slider across the bottom of the map to see what the country will look like in 2015, when there will be “200ish” superchargers in place.

Most of the first chargers will draw power from the grid, but ultimately they will all have solar panels in place, as well as stationary battery packs to make the superchargers self-sufficient.

“These stations will operate even if the entire grid goes down,” Musk said. “So even during the Zombie Apocalypse you'll be able to recharge. … I can see the headlines now, 'Musk predicts Zombie Apocalypse.' ”

You heard it here first.

The plan is to set up the chargers first then back-fill the solar panels 12 to 18 months after that and add battery storage to all stations six to 12 months after that. Local power utilities can use the battery packs as a power buffer during peak usage, too, Musk added.

The charging network should help expand sales, as well.

“It does mean quite a lot to mainstream customers,” Musk said. “It's really important for accessing a broader audience.”

While supercharger improvements are one way to attract mainstream buyers, it's not the biggest thing.

“Ultimately, we need to come out with a more affordable car,” Musk said.

The next Tesla is the Model X SUV, but after that will be a BMW 3-series-size car and a similar-size SUV, Musk said.

By Mark Vaughn