Paige Doster-Grimes

Reflections and Ramblings from North Carolina

Tesla in Unexpected Places

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tesla2On a recent road trip I came across a perplexing sight – a Tesla charging station. For the uninitiated, Tesla makes luxury electric cars (think: Mercedes Benz CLS-Class is to Hyundai Accent as Tesla Model S is to Toyota Prius).  Anywhere other than Rocky Mount, North Carolina, this may not have been so surprising. But juxtaposed to the Cracker Barrel and Texas Steakhouse flanking the cluster of electric car chargers in this farm-heavy community… it doesn’t exactly scream, “Tesla should be boosting their brand here”. Besides, the closest dealership itself is over an hour away. After a little research, though, Tesla’s plan seems pretty solid.

See, this charging station (housed on the DoubleTree hotel’s lot) is part of Tesla’s initiative to put stations all over the US. Come 2014, Tesla owners will be able to drive coast to coast, or boarder to boarder, and charge up – for free – at Tesla stations strategically placed along major highways close to shops, restaurants, and hotels. It’ll take your Tesla 40 minutes or less to regain the battery life you need to drive about 3 more hours, but you’ll have ample choices of things to do while you wait.

The Rocky Mount station seemed like an odd pick to us at first, but its location is pretty ideal. It’s immediately off of the highway (so no driving around wasting battery life when you need it the most), an easy walk to several restaurants (if steakhouses are your thing, you’re in luck!), and in the midst of 6 hotels and a hospital (where folks are likely to be anyways).

Tesla’s working on slaying the belief that electric cars should be any less convenient than gas-powered vehicles. While there may be a ways to go (they’ve got 49 stateside stations up and running today with a plan to have 98% of the US population covered by 2015, though it’s unclear how many stations that equates to), Tesla owners are already reaping the benefits of guaranteed free charging across the country and an increased sense of freedom and security in their ride (an antidote to the “range anxiety” electric vehicle owners are disposed to).

Rather than purchasing land for the charging stations (which have a minimal footprint anyways), Tesla’s partnering with existing businesses to set up shop. The DoubleTree in Rocky Mount (owned by Hilton) was clearly game to get in on the electric action. They offered a corner of their existing parking lot where the charging station now sits. But at what cost? Based on the information I found, it looks like partner businesses actually get a pretty sweet deal – minimal up front cost or investment and the opportunity to be seen as cutting edge and supportive of a less gas-dependent future.

It begs the question, how much is Tesla investing in this initiative and what’s their anticipated ROI? It looks like the cost for each charging station is between $100,000 and $175,000 (paid by Tesla) and then of course there’s the electric bill (footed by Tesla as well). The costs are high, especially given the fairly aggressive expansion they’re looking at over the next two years.

But the benefits could also be huge. Tesla’s not waiting for a lurching energy infrastructure to catch up to the growing demand for more efficient vehicles. Instead, it’s taking matters into its own hands and building the infrastructure itself. In doing so, it’s helping to ensure Tesla owners are happier than ever with their purchase and making the choice for first-time buyers that much easier by quelling concerns about when and where they’ll be able to charge. In fact, over on the Tesla forums several Tesla owners commented that the charging stations are so great they’d be happy to pay to charge up if it meant Tesla would expand the number of stations available more quickly.

So far, the strategy seems to be paying off for Tesla and its shareholders. Though there’s disagreement on whether 2014 will be bullish or not for Tesla’s stock, I’m betting that in the long-term Tesla’s going to yield major revenue from their forward-looking approach. And I’m looking forward to stumbling across more Tesla charging stations in unexpected places – they’re a sign of a unique business that’s not only offering a quality product through their cars but making big changes to the world we live in (and quite possibly the future of electric vehicles) with their charging stations.

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