Tesla Motors Inc is growing fast and CEO Elon Musk has an ambitious plan to build 500,000 cars by 2018 and to build 1 million cars by 2020. The fast-paced growth is good for Tesla; it would help the firm consolidate its lead in the electric vehicle market and the growth could propel the faster adoption of EVs. However, folks at Consumer Reports think that Tesla’s supercharger network might not expand fast enough to keep up with the growth and the firm could risk losing some of its customers if charging becomes too much of a hassle.
Superchargers might not keep up with Tesla’s growth story
Tesla Motors owes much of its earliest success to its vibrant network of Superchargers that crisscross key interstate highway corridors and travel stops. The Superchargers have high-powered charging ports that could juice up a Model S within 30 minutes. Tesla sweetened the deal by offering free lifetime access to the Supercharger when you buy its cars – think about how drivers would love free lifetime access to gas. The access to Superchargers eliminated most of the range anxiety that could make people hesitant about buying an EV.
However, drivers have started to complain about long waits at Superchargers. Elon Musk noted that “there are a few people who are quite aggressively using it for local supercharging… We’ll sort of send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do this occasionally, but it’s meant to be a long-distance thing.” Superchargers are meant to be used on long distance trips but drivers are hogging the superchargers for everyday local trips.
Consumer Reports notes that “Tesla plans to double the size of the Supercharger network by the time the more affordable, higher-volume Model 3 arrives in showrooms at the end of 2017″. However, there are doubts that the Supercharger network will keep up with the firm’s growth trajectory because “Tesla’s Supercharger network already has shown signs of strain. A handful of Supercharger stations in key locations are already experiencing waiting lines… Wait times can become excessive during peak periods such as Friday afternoons and busy travel holidays”.
Better batteries to the rescue
Tesla Motors might be able to solve the brewing problem with its superchargers if it builds longer-lasting batteries. The current crop of batteries in Tesla’s cars could deliver 200+ miles on a single charge that takes about 30 minutes at a supercharger – it takes an overnight charging to get a full charge at home. Tesla could halve the number of trips to the superchargers if its cars could get 400+ miles on a single charge (in 30 minutes) at the supercharger or from an overnight charging at home.
Now, Tesla has hired Jeff Dahn, a leading Li-ion battery researcher at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, who will start an exclusive contract with Tesla Motors on June 8. Dahn has been saddled with the task of doing whatever it takes to improve battery performance. Dahn will be working on how to build a relatively cheap superbattery to drive EVs
The problem with batteries however is how to balance the tradeoffs between energy density, lifespan, and size of the batteries. You can increase the volume of charge that a battery can hold by increasing the size of the battery, but big batteries are impractical in EVs. The other solution is to increase the energy density of the battery, but an increase in energy density would lower the lifespan of the battery. It would be interesting to see the solution that professor Dahn develops to reduce the size of the battery and to increase its energy density without reducing the lifespan of the battery.