Tesla’s Supercharger network is easily one of the company’s smartest idea. When the company started selling its Model S sedan in 2012, the biggest barrier to driving an electric vehicle (EV) was that there was virtually no charging infrastructure. You could plug your vehicle in at home, but that was very slow unless you had a spare 50 amp dryer outlet.
To make it a little easier to spend close to six figures on a new car without having range anxiety, Tesla launched its own network of fast charging stations. That meant you could drive your vehicle on longer trips without worrying about running out of battery charge. Oh, and to make it even better, people who bought a Tesla for the first few years got unlimited Supercharging for free.
Of course, charging an EV still takes longer than pumping a tank full of gas. If people are going to have to stop for 20 or 30 minutes, it makes sense that you might want to put your Superchargers somewhere near civilization so Tesla owners have something to do.
That’s why I love this latest wacky idea the company is trying out in Germany, where it recently installed a heated pool at a Supercharger. Yes, a pool. As in, you can charge your car and go for a swim while you wait. I did say it was a wacky idea, didn’t I?
While installing a pool is one of the more unusual ways to let people kill a little time while adding range to their battery, it’s not the only thing Tesla is up to. The whole thing is kind of brilliant. Here’s what I mean.
Most Supercharger locations are still limited to the far corners of large parking lots at big box stores near major highway interchanges. That makes sense. the people who are most likely to need to use a Supercharger are people who are traveling long distances–which probably means they’re driving on a highway. Also, if you’re going to stop for 20 or 30 minutes, it’s nice to have stores and restaurants nearby.
Tesla has also added software to its vehicles to give drivers something to do while they charge. You can watch Netflix or YouTube or Disney+, or even play Tesla’s car karaoke game, known as caraoke. All of that’s especially handy if you have young children.
But, what if you want to take a trip further from civilization. That’s hard to do in a vehicle that you have to plug in every few hundred miles. You can start building Superchargers in more rural areas, but those are less likely to have the other niceties readily available.
Of course, you could always build those too. It turns out, Tesla is doing just that.
Tesla worked with a company called BK Group to install what it calls Qubes, which are basically small modular buildings with bathrooms, a hangout area (including video games), food and coffee vending machines, quiet pods for having a quick meeting or phone call, and even a machine that will make a hot pizza in four minutes.
There’s a great review of the first of these Qubes at a Supercharger in Endsee, Germany by YouTuber Kyle Conner of Out Of Spec Reviews. BK Group says it plans to roll out 200 of these at Supercharger locations. The only downside I can think of is that they aren’t coming to the U.S.
Ten years later after it launched them, Tesla has built more than 36,000 Superchargers, and they are still one of the best benefits of buying one of its cars, even if the company no longer gives out unlimited charging. By partnering with companies that add valuable services, it makes that network even more valuable to users.
That’s actually a valuable lesson. There’s only so much Tesla can do about the speed at which its vehicles charge. If you’re traveling a long distance, you’re always going to have to spend some amount of time charging, and that amount of time is always going to be longer than it would take to fill a gas tank. At some point it’s just physics.
Tesla can, however, make the experience of owning and driving its vehicles better. Adding a pool or the Qubes might sound strange, but that’s exactly what it’s doing–it’s giving its customers a better experience. Maybe that’s not such a wacky idea after all.