Are Superchargers about to become retro drive-in restaurants?
Despite the impressive speeds of Tesla's Supercharger network, they're still a long way from matching that of a gas station.
At best you're looking at plugging in and waiting 10 to 20 minutes. At worst? You have to wait for a charger to become available, share its power with the car next to you, and sit around for 45 minutes — or more — because the charger is in the middle of nowhere and there's nothing else to do.
Our experience of driving Teslas long distances in the UK covers both of these situations. Sometimes there's a grocery store just a short walk from the charger, and the car is just about full when you return. Other times, you need to wait for a charger, located on a business park which, being a Sunday, is mostly closed leaving you without options for food or entertainment.
Thankfully, it seems that Tesla and boss Elon Musk are working on a solution. First, as is often the case with Tesla and SpaceX news, it began with a tweet from Musk. On January 7 he said: "Gonna put an old school drive-in, roller skates & rock restaurant at one of the new Tesla Supercharger locations in LA."
Gonna put an old school drive-in, roller skates & rock restaurant at one of the new Tesla Supercharger locations in LA
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 7, 2018
A Twitter user then suggested that Musk should "give digital trophies for visiting each one," to which he replied: "That sounds cool. Will do."
As is increasingly the case with Musk, it was difficult to tell if he was being serious or not. His Boring Company flamethrowers and plans to build tunnels under Los Angeles both began with a whimsical tweet before becoming reality.
Now, an application for a permit for a "Tesla restaurant and supercharger station" in Santa Monica has been filed. First spotted by The Drive, the permit describes an "electrical vehicle charger" and points to an address which for formally a Volvo dealership. Google Maps images suggest there is plenty of space to install Supercharger bays and a small restaurant on the plot.
Currently in the pre-submittal phase, the permit will need to be reviewed by city representatives - something which could happen as soon as March 22 according to Santa Monica city planning guides.
It is no surprise that Tesla is looking to add more to its Supercharger stations. Currently, although billing drivers for electricity — and recently increasing those fees — Tesla says it does not seek to earn a profit from charging and does not treat Superchargers as profit centers. Instead, for Superchargers located at existing service stations it is the shops and restaurants already on site which earn extra revenue from Tesla drivers making longer visits than everyone else.
This in itself is a bargaining chip for Tesla when it looks to install new chargers. The automaker can point to its drivers' long stops as a way for the service station to earn extra money - or for a hotel with Superchargers to even sell rooms based on their EV infrastructure.
But clearly Tesla wants a piece of that revenue too, and has recently opened charging stations in Kettleman City (pictured at the top of this article) and Baker in California, which feature a small shop and cafe with vending machines and seating areas — and space to charge 40 cars at once. Just like its retail stores, they also promote Tesla's other products like its solar panels and home energy storage systems.
Offering its drivers a comfortable place to sit down and grab a bite to eat is exactly what Tesla should be doing while charging remains significantly slower than pumping gas. As we recently discovered on a long drive from London to Cornwall, in the south-western tip of the UK, stopping at a Supercharger attached to a welcoming village hotel with a restaurant and lounge was far better than spending 30 or 40 minutes at a regular highway gas station.
Secondly, with Tesla soon producing its electric semi truck, drivers of those will need places to stop during long journeys. And given Musk's love of publicity stunts, we aren't surprised that he's planning retro-themed restaurants. Expect a lot of red neon.