By on June 25, 2021

Tesla is being sued in California by an owner that’s claiming the automaker broke its promise of a lifetime of free charging after it started imposing fees upon people who allowed their cars to sit at stations for too long. For those of you that don’t recall, Tesla began rolling out its Supercharger network in 2012 and promised unlimited free charging as a way to entice early adopters. While it doesn’t pertain to all vehicles and has existed in various incarnations, gratis electricity was available on most properly equipped Model S and Model X purchased by 2016. But the deal has existed in various incarnations through 2020 and has been confusing customers almost as much as the apparently bogus self-driving suite.

As the brand became more popular, you’d start seeing Tesla owners populating Supercharging stations in greater numbers and chattering about their interests. Unfortunately, those extended diatribes on the merits of TEDx and spending a fortune on minimalist interior home design resulted in stations being occupied but going unused. To discourage this Tesla began imposing fines in 2016, noting that it hoped never to make money on the updated arrangement.

This is what encouraged Kevin Shenkman to sue the automaker in California state court. According to Bloomberg, Shenkman is attempting to represent all early Tesla adopters in the suit and would like the company to stop the practice of imposing charging fees. He’s also seeking punitive damages for what he believes is the company going back on its word and reimbursement for anyone who was promised free charging and had to pay a fine.

Alameda County court documents allege that Tesla’s often come into effect swiftly after the vehicle has accumulated its full charge, allotting an insufficient period for a driver to return to the car. While that wouldn’t be too bad if you only had to walk away for a couple of minutes, Tesla owners might have to leave the car alone for an hour to recoup the maximum amount of electricity. Meanwhile, the company offers a feature that allows motorists to check the status of proprietary charging stalls in advance with a fair degree of accuracy.

Loitering fees come into play instantly and tack on anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar per minute, depending on how full the station happens to be. If you manage to move the car within the first five minutes, all charges are supposed to be nullified.

Considering all of the above, it seems as though both the company and the customer should be able to navigate the issue without entering into a legal battle. If you’re keeping tabs on your vehicle, you should be able to get it unplugged within five minutes. Of course, Tesla probably doesn’t need to be charging people 50 cents a minute for letting their car linger in an otherwise empty lot.

Of course, Shenkman is claiming this is a matter of principle and effectively accusing the automaker of lying to its customers since it’s effectively barring people from free charging if they think the “congestion fees” are out of whack.

“To compound the matter, when a customer, such as plaintiff, who has been promised free Supercharging for life, refuses to pay such ‘Supercharger fees,’ Tesla cuts off Supercharging access entirely, thus disabling a feature for which customers paid thousands of dollars extra to obtain,” Shenkman told the court.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened either. Tesla was previously been chided by independent repair shops and owners for digitally stripping vehicles of content after they hit the secondhand market. Despite the original owners having paid for things like Full-Self Driving (FSD) and Autopilot, the company decided that those items didn’t necessarily need to be carried over to subsequent owners — despite its own customer service department saying otherwise.

But it would be a mistake to target Tesla exclusively. These are trends that are becoming increasingly commonplace with manufacturers and are likely to accelerate as over-the-air updates and data sharing become ubiquitous features of the modern automobile. If you’re not interested in having carmakers charge you to digitally unlock features already installed in your vehicle (likely via subscription fees) or hit you with punitive fines for living your vehicle somewhere, you might want to make your voice heard or get ready for a lifetime of buying increasingly ancient vehicles.

Ah, the marvels of automotive connectivity. Unparalleled convenience all focused in a way that burdens the customer.

[Image: Welcomia/Shutterstock]

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45 Comments on “Tesla Sued Over Supercharging Fees, Broken Promises...”


  • avatar
    turiMaximo

    Technically speaking, the supercharging is still free. The fee is for parking/idling after your free supercharging.

    It’s just a typical crooked lawyer move who wants to make some buck. Only in America!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Tesla recognized the risk of charger squatting early on. It hardly happens in the EV wasteland of western PA, and I don’t frequent public chargers anyway.

    This guy thinks that since he reserved a seat at an expensive restaurant, the rules of public decorum don’t apply to him. I’m not sympathetic.

    On the other hand, Tesla could rework its fine schedule to be more reasonable. Seems like this problem will need to be addressed with all the various charging outlets popping up, SC or otherwise.

    Me, I get annoyed with the people who believe the gas pump is their personal parking spot as they go inside to buy cigarettes, Red Bull, and lottery tickets. I once saw *10* gas pumps occupied this way.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I’m not sure the ICE vehicle staying at the fuel pump while the driver goes in to buy convenience store products is analogous. The pump cannot be used again until the transaction has been paid out. Not everybody trusts the credit card readers at the pump, or even pay with credit card.

      • 0 avatar
        Firestorm 500

        If you don’t pay at the pump, you’re going to have to go in and pay before the pump is authorized. That’s fine. Just don’t go in there are do your weekly shopping for 30 minutes at a busy station while your car just squats there.

      • 0 avatar

        @ Tankinbeans: I think that part of the folks SCE is referring to park their vehicle at the pump – not buying any fuel – and go inside to buy whatever they’re seeking. I’ve seen this myself at a store where I usually buy fuel. It has 8 spots and I’ve seen half of them occupied by non-fuel buying customers while I’m filling up. This even though there are 10 spots with only 2 occupied of parking for just this purpose. Firestorm makes another good point on pre-pay. They should fuel up first, pull to an open spot not by a pump and complete whatever other ‘shopping’ they intend to do. Occupying – or otherwise tying up a pump during a busy time is evidence of thinking only of oneself, to hell with anyone else.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Good on Tesla here. While not Superchargers in my case, there is an annoying trend of EV owners treating the charging spots as EV parking vs charging spots. I wish the other charge providers would do this do fines like this

    SCE mentions cars at gas pumps. That is annoying but typically they come back in a few minutes at most. There is an employee at our local mall (I assume as the car is always there) that leaves there Tesla in the spot all day, sometimes not even plugged in.

    I’ve been blocked by non charging EVs while I was driving a leaf on several occasions. I have never been “ICEd” by a pickup which of you follow the EV sites is an epidemic lol.

    Either way, move your car when it’s done. Free Charging? Yes. Free Parking? No.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Good summary.

      Back when I had a Leaf, the worst offender was the Nissan dealer’s own cars blocking their only charger. Dealer chargers typically get the worst ratings for this reason.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      I’ve warned a few people about this who were looking at electrics without a charging plan for their day to day. Its a source of frustration and anxiety if you need to come back to your car when its left in a place its not particularly welcome. Yes, that’s how the sales manager views your off brand at the dealer where you left it plugged in and you aren’t a customer. Compounded by it being always a prime parking spot. Rudeness is always possible both ways once that tension is introduced, and this is def not just a dealer charger issue.

      I’ve overheard the adjust the parking fee convo twice by people in charge of them. Its a frustration driven countermeasure. We really need to figure out a better dynamic here.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        ” Yes, that’s how the sales manager views your off brand at the dealer where you left it plugged in and you aren’t a customer.”

        Sounds like someone that shouldn’t be a sales manager. The proper approach is to install extra chargers, put up a sign saying other makes are welcome to charge, and offer free snacks and coffee to the “off-brand” chargers. Even install a Tesla destination charger. While they are there enjoying the free snacks and coffee, ask them if they would like to take test drive. I’ve never been a car dealer, but I’m assuming it’s a good idea to get owners of competing brands onto your lot. If I was a Chevy dealer for example, I’d make sure I’d have a CHAdeMO charger to draw in Leaf owners. Post a sign offering them a Bolt to run errands while their Leaf charges. Every Cadillac, BMW, and Porsche dealer should install Tesla destination chargers.

        • 0 avatar
          tedward

          I’m pretty sure installing an EV charger is a much bigger decision than a dealer SM gets involved in. That’s property owners, dealer principals and maybe general managers. As far as bringing competitors on lot….I didn’t get the impression that was a thing that was happening. From what I saw it was people dropping off inconveniently far from their destination and then uber’ing away. After having a stressed converstaion about when penalty fees for over staying would begin. Maybe that changes with more dealers offering ev’s and more customers looking into them.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        It was a Leaf at a Nissan dealer in my case. It was welcome when they were selling it new.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      +1

      Finding a supercharger near an airport, then parking your Tesla there, for free, while heading to Europe for a year, has very little in common with whether you have to pay for charging or not.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    The term you are looking for Mercedes is “lack of due care and diligence”. You’ll hear it from the plantiff’s lawyers.

  • avatar
    mcs

    In my personal experience, the worst offenders of blocking spaces are fellow EV drivers. Not scientific, but finding an ICE in a charger spot is far rarer. Many times it’s not even plugged in. At least if you’re going to fake charge, plug in the cable. Idle charges are needed. The parking space is free while charging only. In fact, this fee might give them a mechanism to bill ICE vehicles parked in the spaces. They absolutely have to have the fee.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      AS far as “ICE” vehicles parking at EV chargers-as always it’s a few choice people that will cause this practice being stopped by legislation making it unlawful to do this. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “will cause this practice being stopped by legislation making it unlawful to do this.”

        In my state, we do have a law like that. I had input to the law and pushed for wording so that it included EVs that ICE as well. They can tow them.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Self-absorbed people are *always* going to be an issue with any charging stations. [And one charger tied to one parking spot means the narcissists win.]

    Simple solution to this is to make each charger accessible from multiple parking spots.

    Example A) Space out the chargers so that there is one charger for every two parking spaces.

    Example B) In the typical ‘Superchargers at the edge of the parking lot’ scenario, slide the [new installation] Superchargers in XX feet from the edge so that the row of chargers is accessible from parking spots on the ‘front’ or the ‘back’ (i.e. add a row of parking mirroring the current row of parking).

    Advanced Solution [for ‘all day/place of employment type charging scenarios, not cross-country ‘in and out’]: One charger serves 4 parking spots. Each charger has 2 (or more) cables. The charger charges the first vehicle through the first cable, then switches to the second, etc. [*Sequential* charging not simultaneous, hopefully the electrical engineer didn’t already have an aneurysm]. First person in doesn’t have to rush to move her vehicle. Fourth person to arrive can plug in with the assurance that ‘his’ charge will begin in turn.

    Advanced Solution Suggested Charging Algorithm: Take vehicle at the end of Cable A to 80% state of charge, then take vehicle at the end of Cable B to 80% state of charge. If the same vehicles are still connected, return to Cable A and take that vehicle to 100% state of charge, then Cable B vehicle to 100% state of charge. If any new vehicles are detected, get those to 80% before topping off any other vehicles.

    Advanced Solution Cost Analysis (Introductory Level): Chargers are expensive. Parking spaces already exist. Duplicate charging cables are relatively cheap in the context of charging equipment. Switching relays, we will see about (but we can power down before switching every time).

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Advanced Analysis – Run simulations for the following:

      I) Each charger accessible from one parking spot

      II) Each charger accessible from multiple parking spots (try 2, 3, 4)

      III) Each charger offers multiple sequential charging cables (try 2, 3)

      The charger equipment and installation represents a large capital outlay. Key metric is capacity utilization. Run the simulations and compare capacity utilization for each charger.

      (We might even be able to reduce the total number of chargers, while increasing vehicle throughput [number of vehicles charged] and definitely improving capacity utilization per charger.)

      [No fines, no flying in the face of human behavior, no fighting with the customer.]

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @Toolguy: Yes, the multiple parking spots solution does exist and many of us have our cars set to unlock the plug once the car is charged.

        for me, with a newer car, I’ll rarely need to use a public charging station. I rarely drive more than the range of most 300+ mile range EVs, so it’s not a huge issue on my radar.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    One thing I’m wondering is if you are notified that the car is done charging. I imagine there is an app or something that pings you. That, or there is a charge meter on your phone you can see the progress and status and ideally an estimated time of full charge.
    5 minutes is a bit short, even if that is the case. But 10 minutes would seem reasonable.

    My solution would be to start discharging the battery 10 minutes after a full charge.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Having to use a ChargePoint app a charger it pops up on my phone how much time I have used. The local WholeFoods and Meijer Grocery stores offer the first hour free. If I bring my wife we can barely get out of Meijer in an hour!

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I’m already buying increasingly-ancient vehicles and have done for twenty years. They’re plentiful; cheap to buy; cheap to run; and cheap to fix.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think loitering fees are good and necessary.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    Generic comment from EV owners – “Range anxiety? -What- range anxiety?”

    Specific comment from EV owners about their daily life – “I get so peeved when I really need a charger and someone else is hogging it!”

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “Specific comment from EV owners about their daily life “I get so peeved when I really need a charger and someone else is hogging it!””

      At least in my case, it’s not true. Probably not true for most. Even on longer trips, I can monitor how busy a station is. Charging stations are getting much bigger now anyway. Tesla even has pre-fab units with multiple ports now.

      In daily life with overnight charging, you pretty much forget the car even has a range gage, When every morning when you get into the car and have 300+ miles range and will consume only 20 to 50 of that, you just don’t worry. No public charging either. Even better, no worries about forgetting to monitor your gas gauge or deal with finding a gas station and pumping gas in low temperatures.

      • 0 avatar
        NigelShiftright

        “In daily life with overnight charging, you pretty much forget the car even has a range gage,”

        Glad you can feel that way, but if I recklessly extrapolate from this thread to the population of USA based EV owners, I think those as relaxed as you are definitely in the minority.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          “, I think those as relaxed as you are definitely in the minority.”

          Use logic. Look at the average miles driven in a day by the average driver. Look at the stats of the income levels of EV owners and even the number of EV owners that have homes where they can charge overnight. Even with an ICE, if you had someone coming to your home and fueling your vehicle every night, you really wouldn’t worry about running out of fuel if you drive less than 10 to 15% of the vehicles range in a day. Why would you care about public charging?

          Better stop worrying about EV drivers. As EVs start taking over, gas station operators will figure out charging stations are more profitable and less hassle. You’ll start seeing gas pumps disappear. Range anxiety is coming soon for ICE drivers. Get used to it.

          • 0 avatar
            SoCalMikester

            and there are companies that will go to your home and fill your tank.

            yoshi is the name of one. seen their drivers filling up their multiple tanks at costco. at least their trucks have a sign saying that its going to take awhile for them to fill.

          • 0 avatar
            NigelShiftright

            “Better stop worrying about EV drivers.”

            I lose exactly zero minutes of sleep a week worrying about EV drivers. I’m not the one posting here about needing to use the charger at the grocery store or getting peeved because somebody is lingering at the charger which is keeping them from getting those badly needed electrons.

            I could replace one of my cars with an EV, and will probably do it when the numbers make sense (I’m fortunate enough to be able to install a 240v line to my garage when I want to). But not the other two.

            Besides, I want to keep an ICE vehicle for when all the coal, gas, and nuke plants are shut down, and the rolling brownouts become a regular event all over the country.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            ” want to keep an ICE vehicle for when all the coal, gas, and nuke plants are shut down, and the rolling brownouts become a regular event all over the country.”

            I want to keep some because I’m a collector and certain cars I’d never electrify. As far as rolling blackouts etc, you need electricity to run gas pumps and with an EV, you can go with solar and storage batteries and not depend on external sources like you do with an ICE. Plenty of stories of people with solar and powerwalls that were fine during the Texas debacle. Storage batteries will be getting very cheap.

            The super-cheap sodium-ion batteries I keep yapping about are getting a big boost in production numbers next month when CATL puts them into production. They don’t have the density yet for EVs yet, but they are fine for storage. While they won’t be that cheap to start with, they expect them to get as low a $40 per kWh. That would mean $2000 for 80kWh worth of cells. No cobalt, no lithium, and no nickel in them to drive up costs. Not a lab project anymore. A small company has them in production already and CATL jumps in next month. They’re here, but just initially expensive. Eventually, in the latter part of the decade, I think we’ll see them in low-end EVs once gravimetric density improvements are made. That salt mine near the Ford Rouge Plant is going to be really busy towards the end of the decade.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I second mcs’s comment. I think most people feel range anxiety because they haven’t actually lived with an EV yet.

        • 0 avatar
          RRocket

          So to forget about range anxiety you’re saying you need overnight charging.

          Which means you almost certainly need to own a home if you want worry free EV ownership.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Or at least a private parking spot. I know multiple condo owners who have worked with their associations to install EV chargers in their parking spots.

          • 0 avatar
            probert

            I don’t own a home, and have pretty worry free ownership. Every now and then I dip into a DC fast – get about 235 miles, watch that next thrilling episode of whatevah – and sally forth. YMMV. There is a bit more thought involved in owning an EV right now, but it is not painful thought like “who am I, and why am I here?”

    • 0 avatar
      Crosley

      Yep, close relative with a Tesla always put this front up, but it seems whenever we meet up after a long drive, charging his car is very much a “thing” he’s consumed with.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    mcs:

    “As far as rolling blackouts etc, you need electricity to run gas pumps”

    True, but a lot less to run a pump and fill my 18 gallon tank than to fully charge an EV. Plus a really widespread adoption of EV’s is going to make those brownouts/blackouts ever more likely.

    “they expect them to get as low a $40 per kWh. That would mean $2000 for 80kWh worth of cells.”

    I have a 16kW generator, hooked up to the fracked gas well on the other end of my property, which just about runs everything in my (not a mansion) house including HVAC on a hot day. So $2000 worth of cells would last five hours, not including charging an EV if I needed to.

    The longest I’ve ever needed to run the jenny was about 50 hours back in 2017 (Major windstorm knocked down trees and lines in about 1/4 of the state). So to have enough storage cells to last that long would cost me $20K, or just about double the cost of the generator and transfer switch.

    Suffice it to say that storage cells would work well for brief outages. I think there will be a lot more non-brief outages to come if the greenies succeed in taking everything that is not solar or wind out of service.

    Mind you I have nothing against clean energy. I would -dearly- love to have a 6th generation, vest pocket nuke in a shed out back of the house. Unmetered, off the grid, carbon free kilowatts for the rest of my life.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      NigelShiftright: “I have a 16kW generator, hooked up to the fracked gas well on the other end of my property, which just about runs everything in my (not a mansion) house including HVAC on a hot day.”

      16kW is the maximum output and doesn’t mean you are actually using 16kW every hour. Average would be around 1.25 kW per hour and at the higher end would be 1.8 kW per hour which is what my large house with an HVAC system large enough that when I called Trane with questions about my unit, they were stunned and kept saying “it’s at a residence?” uses. At average consumption, an 80kW system would last you 2.6 days without the noise of the generator. Add solar and another unit and you’d probably never run out. I have friends in a back area of Vermont that frequently lose power and they swear by their powerwall. They love the thing.

      For me at 45kW per day, my car will typically be 0 to 4kW of that. On a 100-mile drive day up to 25kWh.

      My fracked wells in the Permian Basin NM are too far away for me (several thousand miles) to tap into. Apache gets most of mine. If that well was closer, I could get a Bloom Energy fuel cell and generate power from that.

      While a fuel pump uses less power than an EV, it’s the gas station’s pump and typically in disasters, they aren’t running and there are long lines at the stations that are up.

      Now, if you’re near a fracked well, you are probably in an area where EV ownership would be a challenge for sure. In places like Hobbs New Mexico and West Texas EV public charging is scarce. I’d probably still own an EV there, but it would be challenging. Not like here in the Northeast where you can’t swing a dead duracell without hitting a charging station.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    The problem for BEVs is an insufficiency of chargers. The Tesla Supercharger network in the US is about 1,000 locations. That’s an impressive accomplishment and a testament to the company’s wisdom in realizing that, without a cross country charging network, its products could never be more than secondary vehicles limited to local errands. Without the network, size and luxury would be the only differences between a Model S and a Leaf.

    By comparison, there are about 180,000 gas stations. That works out to one station for every 17 square miles. Obviously, the distribution is not uniform and there are still a few highways with signs that read, “No services for XX miles” where XX is a number approaching 100. Nevertheless, it’s almost never necessary to plan your trip around fuel stops. With a BEV, you absolutely do have to plan your trip around recharging points.

    The Tesla Supercharger network consists of clusters of chargers in urban areas connected by strings of chargers in rural areas to get you from one urban cluster to the next. On the east and west coasts, there are so many strings that everything begins to resemble a huge cluster. If that’s where you live and drive, you’re never very far from a Supercharger.

    It’s much different in the western mountain states. There are Superchargers along the east-west interstates in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas but not in between them. A BEV owner who wants to stray off the interstates is pretty much limited to half his vehicle’s real world range.

    Consider the little town of Weeping Water, population 1,100, about 30 miles south of Omaha in Nebraska. There are two gas stations in town, one of which is open at all hours. There are also 24-hour gas stations in Louisville, 12 miles north, and Syracuse, 17 miles south. The nearest Superchargers are in Council Bluffs, across the Missouri River from Omaha, and in Topeka, Kansas. Until there are Superchargers or their equivalents in Louisville, Weeping Water and Syracuse plus Nebraska City, Auburn, Sabetha and Holton, BEVs will remain niche vehicles and those who own them will be early adopters much like the owners of ICE vehicles in the early 20th century. Dwight Eisenhower’s support of a national interstate highway system stemmed in part from his struggles as commander of a 1919 military convoy from Washington, DC to San Francisco.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      How much of the total U.S. population do you think ever visits places like Weeping Water? (If you actually live there, you’ll have plenty of room for a home charger.)

      The networks to watch are the big non-Tesla ones. At current rates of expansion within a few years they will have all of the interstate system and most high-volume secondary routes covered. At that point the set of people that really can’t get places with an EV will be pretty small. The tradeoff will be everyday convenience vs. slower road trips.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I don’t live in Weeping Water but I live in flyover territory. I worry that rural America will bear the cost of a city technology (EV vehicles) while being taxed more for gas /road use in the near future.
    I got into a semi-heated argument with a buddy regarding his new Tesla X winged, and he mentioned that Tesla had over 20,000 superchargers and my eyes widened.And then he mentioned the Tesla dealer told him you won’t be ablt to buy a IC car in 10 years. I laughed, and he postured. Later that evening I realized that this encompassed only 1200 locations with several per location. Thats ok because in 2021 EV doesn’t fit my driving habits (200 mile rural commute 2 weeks a month) nor aspirational.

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