Update: The secret sections discussed below have now been fully removed from Tesla’s website.
When the Tesla Model 3 was revealed last spring, Elon Musk made it clear that free for life Supercharger access would not be included in the price of the car. How then were owners supposed to be able to travel long distances? Statistics show that the typical electric car owner does most of the recharging needed at home. Some recharge at work, but only a small percentage actually use chargers located elsewhere. So accessing the Supercharger network shouldn’t be that big a deal for most Model 3 owners who will drive their cars fewer than 200 miles a day and recharge them at home overnight.
But what happens when that Model 3 gets used to take the family camping or to Disney World? Will it be barred from using Superchargers along the way? Will Model 3 owners become second-class citizens, forever envious of the Model S and Model X cars that get to recharge for free whenever they want?
Some have speculated that Tesla may offer charging packages as an option. Back when the first Model S cars were hitting the streets, free Supercharging for life was a $2,000 option on entry-level models. Eventually, it just got rolled into the price. Tesla could offer such a package again. But that’s a lot of money to pay up front for a service that may never be fully utilized, and paying for charging is not something a driver can do at a Supercharger location today.
Now, it appears Tesla has decided to let customers pay for Supercharger access via the owner’s MyTesla website page. Then the credits purchased can be used at any Supercharger location. Mother Tesla knows important stats about every car it has ever built. Plug it in and the main computer in Elon’s basement will know instantly whether the driver has charging credits available, and authorize the flow of electrons if it does. No credits? No electrons. The approach is no different than the EZ Pass electronic toll payment system used in most states. You pay in advance, then every time you pass through a toll station, the appropriate fee is deducted automatically from your available balance.
Coding to enable this feature is now included in the HTML on the MyTesla page assigned to each Model 3 reservation holder but is “commented-out” at present. Commented code is usually a placeholder put in by developers. It is embedded and can be activated later via an update. Once activated, a “Supercharger Credits” box will appear on the MyTesla page. It will show how many kilowatt-hours of electricity are available for the customer’s use. Once the balance falls to a pre-determined level, the customer will be invited to purchase more credits.
Update: There’s another spot in the website where investigators have found signs of the same:
It’s a simple, elegant system. It should allow Model 3 owners to have the Supercharger access they need without paying a large fee up front. It will also mitigate congestion at Supercharger locations. Since the service won’t be free, Model 3 owners will only use it when needed. The question now is whether Tesla could lower the list price of its cars by making Supercharger access a “pay as you go” feature for Model S and Model X owners as well.
The company has given no indication it intends to do so, but the new system for Model 3 owners could be easily applied to all Tesla drivers. Doing so might be a useful way to reduce congestion at Supercharger locations. If something in “free,” people tend to use it more than necessary just because they can. It’s human nature. If it costs them money, they tend to ration their usage more. It will be interesting to see if Tesla expands this idea to include all its customers.