Tesla Motors just opened a new Supercharger station in Oregon last Thursday. That means it's now possible to drive a Tesla from Vancouver, Canada on down Los Angeles without ever having to get further than a few hundred feet from the highway. And if you're one of the few electric motorists fortunate (and wealthy) enough to own a Roadster or a Model S, you can do it for free.
Tesla drivers were already able to make an all-electric journey along the East Coast from DC to Boston, using only the charging stations installed along the way. A number of journalists have documented taking that trip, and all but one completed it with ease.
Now, the same is true on the West Coast, but the distance is much longer, and the prospective feat more impressive. Along with the charging station in Vancouver, there are two in Washington, on in Oregon, and nine in California. Tesla's Model S sedan gets 205-265 miles per charge, making a West Coast-spanning jaunt down the length of the entire I-5 feasible. It'd be close, but since there are charging stations in Yreka, CA and reportedly in Eugene, Oregon, an emissions-free West Coast cruise is now in the cars.
Which is precisely what Tesla wants. The car company, which has seen its valuation soar in recent months—it's worth more than Chrysler, and is considered a seriously disruptive force int he auto industry—has already dispelled the myth that electric cars are hokey hippie mobiles. Both of its models are sleek, sexy, and the recipient of fawning reviews from the automotive press.
Now, it's seeking to do the same for the notion that electric cars aren't compatible with long roadtrips. Tesla is rapidly building up a charging network across the country—by the end of the summer, it aims to have 27 stations up and running.
A map of Supercharger stations, before the opening in Oregon.
The 170 kw chargers in these Supercharger stations can juice a car with 200 miles worth in just half an hour. By the end of fall 2013, it plans to have "most metropolitan areas" covered. By 2015, Tesla claims "98% of the US population" will have access to one of the stations.
And, as of now, Tesla has made a 20-minute half-charge free of charge. It has, surprsingly, not used that particular phraseology in its ad campaign, which is nonetheless ramping up—so-called "range anxiety" is one of the final hurdles to mainstream electric vehicle adoption in the US.
Spending 20-30 minutes is certainly longer than it takes to fill up a tank of gas. But it's a whole lot faster than the overnight charge times of early electric vehicles—and a whole lot cheaper than the $40 you're liable to drop filling up your gas can.
With electric cars' commercial viability now soundly proven, Tesla clearly thinks the next step is to show that they can do just as well long-distance as they can turning heads around Silicon Valley. The next step will be proving that electric cars can be affordable; something the company plans to do by using an economy of scale to reduce the price of batteries.
But for now, let's just acknowledge that this is a pretty sound achievement—even if it's only currently an option for the rich, it is now possible to comfortably drive an electric car from Vancouver to LA without stopping longer than half an hour at a time. Electric cars just got one step closer to making gas-guzzlers dinosaurs.