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Tesla opens free fast-charge stations, plans for electric ‘cross-country travel’

Up to 100 stations will be installed by the end of 2013, but the technology has drawbacks even for Tesla owners.

For prospective electric car owners, Tesla’s free fast-charge stations sound too good to be true.

And they are — unless you’re a new owner of the company’s spiffy Model S sedan. On Friday, Tesla opened six stations in California that claim to recharge a Model S to nearly full in just 30 minutes.

“For the average traveler, you’re looking at a 30-minute charge,” spokeswoman Shanna Hendriks told MSN. “That’s enough time to stop, grab a bite to eat, take a quick pee break, walk the dog, and then you’re on your way again.”

Tesla’s six stations, called “Superchargers,” accommodate just two to four cars at a time, although the company says that’s plenty to support road trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco (a 382-mile drive) or Los Angeles to Las Vegas (265 miles). Even a separate detour to Lake Tahoe and back is possible, the company says.

While everything is completely free, Tesla’s stations can’t recharge any other electric vehicle. That’s because their proprietary design (pictured, at right) isn’t compatible with the latest fast-charge standard released by the Society of Automotive Engineers this week, which was adopted with the support of eight major automakers.

“It’s hard to know what Tesla is going to do with that in the future,” said Hendriks. “We make adapters for Model S so that our customers can charge at any station, so I could see possibly an adapter coming.”

Tesla has always disliked waiting. When the Roadster debuted in 2008, it was the only production electric vehicle on sale in the U.S. At that time, the SAE hadn’t adopted a charging standard, so Tesla went ahead with its own that could be plugged directly into an outlet, rather than through a special charging station. Months earlier this year, CEO Elon Musk announced an entirely new plug design for the Model S — a sleek, thin connection discreetly hidden in the car’s rear taillamp — because the SAE’s lower-voltage plug was “ugly.” With it, Musk had even bigger plans to do what the SAE, governments, and utilities hadn’t yet done: build a viable network of fast-charge stations that could finally put “range anxiety” to rest.

By the end of 2013, Tesla said it expects to install 94 additional fast-charge stations on both coasts, primarily in California and the Northeast. Other stations will be scattered midway that would “enable cross-country travel.” The company said it was considering upgrading its smartphone app to allow owners to check if stations were unoccupied.



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