No Fixed Abode: Guess You Won't Be Superchargin' After All, Pal

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

I didn’t learn about the “California No” until I started writing about cars. I was raised on the East Coast, where people have no trouble saying “No” whatsoever. There’s even a song about it. In Ohio, people might be apologetic about it but they will still forthrightly tell you, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to buy from you,” or “I don’t want to meet with you about that.”

That’s not how California works. The so-called “California No” is simply a drawn-out pas de deux in which someone avoids responding directly to your question because they are unwilling to directly refuse or reject you. Supposedly, the California No and the Asian No are related. I couldn’t say. All I can tell you is that I have zero patience for the California No, particularly when it comes from people working in the automotive PR or journalism “spaces,” and I will make attempts to California-No me as uncomfortable as humanly possible, without exception.

To this fine Golden State institution, you can now add the related “California Prohibit,” which is best exemplified by Tesla’s new directive regarding “commercial” use of its Supercharger facilities.

Supercharger Fair Use

To help ensure that Superchargers are available for their intended use, we ask that you not charge your vehicle using a Supercharger if your vehicle is being used:

as a taxi;

for ridesourcing or ridesharing (through Uber, Lyft or similar services);

to commercially deliver or transport goods;

for government purposes; or

for any other commercial venture.

If you charge your vehicle in a manner that does not comply with this Supercharger Fair Use Policy, we may ask you to modify this behavior. We may also take additional action to protect the availability of Superchargers for their intended purpose, such as limiting or blocking your vehicle’s ability to use Supercharger stations.

This Policy applies to all Superchargers worldwide and all Tesla vehicles purchased, either new or used, whether from Tesla or a third party, after December 15, 2017. Tesla may choose to exclude certain Supercharger stations or occasional trips from the scope of this Policy, such as to accommodate specific local circumstances.

Tesla is going to “ask” you to “modify this behavior.” And they “may” take additional action. You can read the whole text at Tesla’s site but there’s nothing any less equivocal than the above. And it’s all headed by the bizarre title of “Supercharger Fair Use.” Well, what’s fair? If you spend a hundred grand on a car with the expectation that you’ll be able to Supercharge on Tesla’s network, what feels “fair” to you? Let’s say you specifically bought a lower-end Tesla with the intention of providing ride-share or livery services, and you baked the availability and cost of power via Superchargers into your calculation? How screwed are you right now?

What’s fascinating about this to me is how closely it mirrors the transition of the computing industry from “you bought it, you use it” to “you’re utterly dependent on our good will.” Prior to the turn of the century, it was generally understood that the purchase of a computer or a piece of software entitled you to do pretty much anything you could manage with said items. In some cases, the product was sold with restrictions — but those restrictions were easy to understand and they didn’t change over time.

Here’s an example. A while ago I worked at an automaker whose name was surprisingly similar to a character in Street Fighter. Anyway, at the M. Bison Motor Company we had a bunch of old Pentium-class PCs that were being used as controllers for industrial robots. The robots had a 25-year lifespan, and they were only halfway through said lifespan, so we ran them on decade-old desktops that generally had no connection to the Internet. This worked surprisingly well. We didn’t update the computers, we didn’t change them, we just left them connected to the robots and disconnected from any network whatsoever.

God help the company that tries a strategy like that in 2017. If you keep a modern device away from the Internet too long, it will progressively lose functionality until you have a paperweight. If I don’t keep my Fire tablet connected to the Internet, I lose the right to watch my movies or listen to my music. I’ve now learned that I need to turn the tablet on the night before any flight I take, otherwise I’ll find out that I have a blank slate at 36,000 feet.

The End-User-License-Agreements (EULAs) that accompany modern software and hardware products are deliberately overlong, overcomplicated, and overly restrictive. They are designed to let the company behind the product evade all responsibility while at the same time retaining total control over what you do with said product. The EULA can be updated at any time, and if you disagree your product can be “bricked.” Never in history have we had this imbalance of power between corporations and consumers. There was just one consolation possible: at least it didn’t apply to the “real world” of homes, cars, meals, et cetera.

Well, it applies now. Tesla can “ask” you to “modify” your behavior. If you fail to comply, it “might” take additional steps. Did you buy a Tesla thinking you’d have unlimited use of a Supercharger? Sucks to be you. Naturally, you can always sue Tesla, whether individually or as part of a class, but in the meantime you’re going to suffer the consequence of Tesla’s whims.

I’ve been racking my brain to think of a pre-electric-era analogy to use here, and the best I can come up with is this: Let’s say that the biodiesel revolution had happened in 1979 and Mercedes-Benz decided to send service techs out in the dead of night to make changes to their cars that would prevent them from running on biodiesel. As some of you will immediately note, it’s not a very good analogy. That’s in large part because no automaker has ever done anything like promise free fillups to its customers. Only a Silicon Valley corporation would do something like that, and the only reason they would act in such “disruptive” fashion would be because they envisioned having the power to change their minds about it after the fact if doing what they promised proved too onerous.

I think this Supercharger restriction business will prove to be extremely unpleasant for Tesla. They’d have been better off just letting the Uber drivers inconvenience everybody else. Restricting access to charging based on the type of use case leads all the Aspie owners out there to imagine themselves a sort of six-figure-luxury-driver Pastor Martin Niemoller. It will dampen enthusiasm for Tesla in a way that a little extra wait for a Supercharger never would.

Those of you who read me here and elsewhere will no doubt have noticed a growing skepticism on my part regarding the societal impact of our Left Coast Illuminati. I can’t help it. There are just too many signs out there that our long nationwide romance with Silicon Valley has degenerated into a spectacularly abusive relationship. And while I remain a supporter of Elon Musk and his big American dreams, I’m now firmly convinced that he’s going to have to adopt a non-Valley approach to attracting, satisfying, and retaining customers.

In short, he’s going to have to learn when to forthrightly say “No” — and when to forthrightly say “Yes,” while meaning it.

[Image: Tesla]

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

More by Jack Baruth

Join the conversation
2 of 95 comments
  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Dec 21, 2017

    Dammit Jack, update your Industrial Control Systems. I have conducted numerous incident responses on supposedly "air gapped" ICS networks because the air gap is only as strong as your most idiotic employee or because someone set up a back door for the engineers to remote in. In the past couple years I've seen NT 4.0 boxes, 2000 boxes, and more unpatched XP boxes then I care to count. Look, I understand the engineer mindset, if it ain't broke and all...but when this does break it will break spectacularly. You don't pay the IT staff to not patch stuff...make them do their job and test and deploy patches during scheduled down time that doesn't break stuff. If they cant or won't fire them and bring in someone who will.

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Jan 12, 2018

    The fascinating part of this is the amount of wiggle room they wrote into it. Clearly this lets them play the game of letting high-profile individuals that would fall in the high net promoter score category sneak in extra charges but enforce limits on "regular" folks. Kind of like how a certain person is able to violate Twitter's TOS because of who they happen to be.

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...