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Tesla Flashback: “We don’t need a charging infrastructure throughout the country”

I highlighted the video below (and a highlighted statement from it) a year ago, but it was buried a bit in a broader Supercharging story and I think it’s such an interesting one that I wanted to do so again. Also, this piece was inspired a bit by this comment from “neroden” the other day: “There’s a reason Tesla charges most of the cost of the Supercharger network to the *marketing* budget!”

The key statement would shock the world and be featured on Forbes, the WSJ, the Washington Post, Gizmodo, Autoblog, and half of the other websites on the worldwide web if it was made today (slight exaggeration possible).

The statement was made by Kurt Kelty. This is a name you probably don’t recognize, but Kurt is Tesla’s director of battery technology and has been with the company since 2006! The statement comes from a 2011 interview at a Panasonic event. Here it is:

“You often hear about this chicken-and-egg syndrome where ‘we can’t really have the EVs out there until we get the charging infrastructure in place,’ but we don’t believe that at all because our customers, I mentioned earlier, they’re charging at home. We don’t need a charging infrastructure throughout the country. The only place we need that infrastructure is probably on major corridors, say between LA and San Francisco — you want some charging stations there — but, in general, our customers are happy charging at home, they have their charger in their garage, and it works very smoothly.”

Note that Tesla unveiled Superchargers in late 2011, almost a year after this interview with Kurt Kelty.

Granted, Tesla’s Superchargers are at corridors where long-distance travel is expected, but the idea that “We don’t need a charging infrastructure throughout the country” seems pretty counter to the whole Supercharger network, which many of us would say is spread throughout the country (and Europe, and parts of China and Japan).

However, that’s not to say Tesla was being deceitful. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that he didn’t expect the Supercharger network to be so popular.

Also, it gets back to neroden’s comment. Superchargers are basically critical for long-distance trips. It’s hard to argue that. But how often do you really make a long-distance trip? How often do you do it in a car, not in an airplane or train? How hard would it be to simply rent or borrow a car on those rare occasions? It doesn’t matter, no matter how much I work to broaden people’s thinking. What matters is that people think their car needs to be able to drive across the country on a whim. And that could explain why the Supercharger network falls into the marketing column.

Tesla Supercharging

Nonetheless, it’s not a crime to point out the obvious: If you are a small company trying to change a huge market, it’s not to your advantage to say something is necessary first that just doesn’t exist. Tesla can talk about the need for Supercharging today, because the company has demonstrated that it thinks this is important (and customers do as well) and it has offered the solution.

On the other hand, Tesla has to continue impressing upon listeners and readers the idea that public charging isn’t that important. Tesla has struggled with drivers who somehow think it makes more sense to go out of their way for free charging, and brought that point up again during its recent shareholder meeting, where Elon essentially stated that anyone doing that is valuing their time at the country’s minimum wage, which seems a bit low for someone driving a Tesla.

Do we need a charging infrastructure throughout the country, and a super-fast charging infrastructure for that matter? That’s up for debate. Is such a charging infrastructure a huge boost to the EV market (presuming the EVs can use it)? Of course it is, and Tesla’s actions since 2011 certainly counter those early 2011 statements quite strongly. After all, if such infrastructure wasn’t critical, doesn’t Tesla have some important work to put all that money into? 😀

For a bit of fun, how important do you think a super-fast charging network across the country is? You can answer via this poll (I’ll share the results on our Facebook page and Google+ page next week, if I don’t do so in an article):

Create your own user feedback survey


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Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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