Tesla set to accelerate in the UK

10 June 2014

Elon Musk opens first UK Supercharger station

Billionaire businessman Elon Musk turned up in East London at the weekend, to host a party and to hand over the first five right-hand-drive examples of Tesla’s Model S electric car. The event, held at The Crystal eco exhibition in docklands, was a suitably upbeat affair, with music, lights, champagne and the chance to prod a Model S or two.

The occasion also marked the opening of the first Tesla Supercharger station in the UK, a two-car facility at The Crystal complete with a solar carport roof. The station is, apparently, temporary. Once power supply issues have been wrangled, a larger installation with eight to ten bays will spring up on the opposite side of the building. The solar roof can’t match the 120kW rate of each Supercharger – you’d need an array of panels the size of three tennis courts to power just one charger at noon in summertime.

First UK Supercharger

In between glad-handing, Musk did set out some interesting pieces of vision for the future of Tesla. There’s a subtle switch of emphasis for the Supercharger network, which has primarily focused on providing power for longer journeys. It’s not solely for the sake of a party that the first UK station is only seven miles east of Big Ben, rather than at Newport Pagnell services. Musk said that by setting up Superchargers near the middle of big cities like London, Beijing, Shanghai and New York, urban customers will be able to choose a Tesla even if they have no means to charge it. If you live in a loft and park on the street you can still aspire to Model S ownership.

With a Supercharger providing up to 270 miles of range in 30 minutes, a weekly top up might be more than enough for the average urban owner.

Of course Tesla is still planning to place Superchargers at waypoints on the motorway network. Musk said there will be coverage of Southern England by the close of the year, and the whole of the UK by the end of 2015. And he reiterated that Supercharging will remain free. According to Musk, the costs of obtaining sites, building stations and providing power are all built into the Tesla business model. He even noted that in some locations, Tesla is paying no rent. It’s not difficult to see why site owners might be keen to attract well-heeled Tesla drivers with half an hour to kill.

First right-hand-drive Model S EVs

Musk also hinted that other manufacturers might help Tesla finance its network in the future. He suggested he was open to negotiations with other carmakers who might want to benefit from Tesla’s investment, with just two caveats: cars must be compatible with the Superchargers, and their drivers must never have to pay a per-use fee.

On the car front, Musk confirmed timelines for the upcoming Model X crossover. It’s due to join the Model S on sale in California from the second quarter of next year, with right-hand-drive deliveries due by the end of 2015. A third car, a five-door smaller than the Model S, should arrive in three years priced at around $35,000 in the US. Ratios of current US and UK prices suggest the smaller EV might start at around £27,000 after the plug-in grant (assuming grants remain available when it arrives). Whatever the eventual sticker says, it will be well below the £50,000 entry point for the Model S.

The smaller car won’t be called Model E, as once mooted, due to legal wrangles with Ford. Tesla recently applied for European Trademark rights to Model Y, making that a distinct possibility.

According to Musk the Tesla Model S already has a European flavour, despite its California origin. It’s a touch wide for narrow British roads, but the European influence on the smaller car could grow because Tesla plans to establish a European research and engineering base next year, most likely in the UK. Musk added that a European factory would also make more sense than shipping completed cars across the Atlantic, once demand and production numbers justify the capacity expansion. The factory is most likely to be set up in Continental Europe rather than the UK, he added, though no decision has been made. A plant in China is also likely, though Musk cautioned that such plans remain fluid: “My crystal ball only sees so far,” he admitted.

Tesla Roadster and Model S

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