Tesla zips free zap initiative

Sorry New Zealand EV fans. ‘Free fuel for life’ is no longer an inducement electric vehicle icon Tesla offers.


ONE of the best things in Tesla ownership life seems unlikely to be free for Kiwis when the brand sets up here in a few months.

The parent brand has just pulled the plug on a tasty inducement it has provided customers since it started up – unlimited free access to its Supercharger stations for the vehicle’s lifetime.

The curtailment of a policy that has been in place since the brand started up its own global recharging network in 2012 apparently only affects cars ordered from the start of this year. Anything older still theoretically qualifies.

However, whether that goes for Tesla cars that have been driving New Zealand roads for several years now seems to be a grey area. There are thought to be at least several dozen Model S cars, of various ages and performance levels and in various market specifications (left and right-hand-drive), in this country.

Those cars are all private imports, not covered by any factory cover - at least, not while on NZ roads – because the brand has not been officially represented here.

Since Tesla doesn’t intend to officially open for business here until April, and has also yet to start implementing Superchargers here, it potentially means no Kiwis were ever going to benefit from the incentive.

However, they do seem set to at least get a taste of the good life enjoyed in the main by North American owners.

Tesla Australia, which will operate the Auckland-located New Zealand franchise, will provide annual free credits for the first 400 kilowatt hours of charging. Drivers only have to start paying for their own electricity after that. The credits award annually on the anniversary of the vehicle’s delivery.

In Australia, 400kWh works out to enough for a Sydney-Melbourne return trip, which works out to around 1700kms or 17 hours running at between 80-110kmh. In New Zealand, it would likely ensure anyone planning an electric odyssey from Cape Reinga to Bluff would get to about Dunedin before they ran out of credit. Alternately, they could drive from Wellington to Auckland and return to then continue to Palmerston North.

Of course, most electric vehicles do tend not to leave the city. In which case, 400kWh could last for a long time. Indeed, Tesla reckons that some owners will find that this is enough to cover their annual running needs.

Tesla has yet to spell out how much the electricity will cost, but claims it will be a non-profit service that will be cheaper than filling up a petrol car. It reinforced this message in a sugar-coated press release sent out to New Zealand and Australian media several days ago.

Tesla’s normal practice is for the fees to be charged to a credit card linked to an owner's online account. They might well be shown on the car's infotainment screen, too. In the US, users generally pay a set price per kilowatt-hour, but in some states they are charged per minute. This is due to state regulations that affect electricity sales by non-utility companies.

Tesla says that by charging for electricity, it will be able to fund an expansion of the supercharger network as it launches its intended volume-seller, the Model 3, which is set to be a lot cheaper than the premium-priced Model X ($145,200 to $224,500) and Model S ($109,300 to $217,000) cars that are first off the block here.

Tesla now has 4600 fast chargers around the world for its 160,000 customers and has also branched out into the home battery and solar cell markets, offering a package that helps Tesla car owners charge their vehicle at home on sun power. The latter will be provided in New Zealand.

The Supercharger stations are aptly named – they run at a maximum of 120 volts, and can add 270km of range to the car in 30 minutes. 

Eighty percent of battery capacity can be added in 40 minutes, but topping it off will take an hour and fifteen minutes, as the charge must be slowed to safely top off the battery.

Tesla cars are not wed to Superchargers; they can replenish off any fast chargers that support their plugs – a feat that will be handy given that two other fast charge networks are now being installed, though primarily in the North Island, which is also where the Tesla network will initially restrict to.