Vacaville, California. Population 93,899, as of two years ago. Median income $57,667. A series of stripmalls. A Buffalo Wild Wings. And one of Tesla’s Superchargers – the weirdest Supercharger, the Supercharger that I cannot understand the location of, nor the existence of – unless, of course, you’re driving like I was from Napa to San Francisco, and needed a quick charge.
The “Supercharger” in question is really just a line of Supercharging units – the tall white holders that you get your power from. Next to it is a gigantic, billowing generator (I think) that makes a sound like a jet engine. And that’s it. The phrase “Supercharger” in the past had become synonymous with a performance accessory for supercars. If you’re a weirdo like me, you associate it with some sort of Tesla experience – a “place” where you take your car that has an “experience” attached to it. Instead what it is is a peculiar charge-bank in a strip mall.
The chargers themselves worked…strangely. When I parked and plugged my car in, with three other cars next to me, I charged at 100 miles per hour (of course, this denotes how much juice you get in a given amount of time, not the traditional measurement of velocity). This kicked up slowly to 150 “mph” once another car left. This was totally fine – I was spoiled by the speed of the Freemont Supercharger, which at my last trip was able to get me to 320 miles per hour of charging.
The Vacaville Supercharger has a bigger problem, though – culture. On the Supercharger Promise Scale, it succeeds only in being able to give you a place to go to the bathroom (a 5 minute walk across the parking lot) and a bite to eat (a vending machine with some candy in it). The scenery is weird – you’re by the highway, there’s a Coldwater Creek Outlet and some other stores, and nothing else.
In short, the Supercharger feels horribly out of place. As did I charging my car. People would walk past the line of Teslas, running their hands on them, or slowly drift by gawking and staring me in the eyes as I waited for it to charge. I don’t mind, really – hands are fine, at least they’re not keys. It just felt a spectacle.
As a functional “charger”, it worked well– and as far as travelling to/from Napa, it was about as perfect it could be. It also brought up the interesting definition that Tesla needs to make between a SuperCHARGER and a Supercharging STATION – a secondary term that doesn’t exist yet, but should.
I am frustrated that Tesla seems so ardently unable to follow through on the basic statements on their website. While their definition of Supercharger is a very fast charger, the pictures they use on the website suggest beautiful, scenic chargers – not a line of weird stalls alongside a strip mall, or awkwardly sandwiched next to the sales office at HQ. In the same way that gas stations function as refueling facilities for both the car and the driver, the Supercharger should be a station not a charger – especially since you’re there for a lot longer than it takes to fill a car’s gas tank.
If the Tesla network is to grow illustriously and truly make a go of being an alternative to gasoline, they have to provide more of a service at a Supercharger. Yes, it’s great that I can get back 50% of my power in 20-30 minutes. However that’s 20-30 minutes I’m sitting around in the car – messing with the screen, twiddling my thumbs – that would be a lot better spent stretching my legs. And no, saying “it’s by a strip mall” is not a sufficient answer.
Considering the amount of care and attention to detail put into the Model S, the Superchargers – at least based on my experiences in Vacaville and Fremont – feel deficient. No doubt they’re expensive to install and maintain, and would be even more so if you added actual services on top of them, but perhaps now is the time for Tesla to make the next step. Sorry, Elon, but I shouldn’t be missing gas stations. And I am.
I realize that sounds immensely bratty – but the basic existence of the gas station is one that is there to partially support the driver. Even if it’s just to have a pee, grab a drink, stretch your legs and then get driving, it’s an experience that is unglamorous but necessary. And until Musk recreates it for the Tesla, it’s something that will effect my willingness to take particularly long drives.