A Tesla owner sued Elon Musk’s EV giant, claiming it broke its promise of free Supercharging for life by introducing ‘idle fees’ at charging stations

Tesla's red-and-white Superchargers lined up in a row with the brand name on them
Tesla superchargers.

  • A Tesla owner said the company broke its promise to give early customers free lifetime Supercharger access.
  • Tesla adds a fee when cars are left at Supercharger charging stations after they’ve reached full battery.
  • The owner, who filed a class-action lawsuit on June 24, had refused to pay these “idle fees.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Tesla owner has filed a class-action complaint against the automaker, saying it broke its promise of free lifelong electric-vehicle charging for some owners.

To boost sales between 2012 and 2016, Tesla promised buyers of most of its models that they could use its network of Superchargers for free for life.

But in late 2016, the company introduced fees for drivers who left their cars at Superchargers after the vehicles had finished charging. These US “idle fees” are currently $0.50 per minute – or $1 per minute when the station is at full capacity.

Kevin Shenkman, a Southern California lawyer, filed a complaint against the automaker on June 24 in Alameda County Superior Court, saying the fees meant “Tesla broke its promise of free Supercharging for life.” Bloomberg first reported the complaint.

The complaint said Tesla breached its contract, and violated California advertising and competition laws. The lawsuit said it would seek class-action status, with class members limited to Californians who bought a Supercharger-enabled vehicle before December 17, 2016.

People who bought some Tesla models with smaller batteries, and customers who bought cars after March 2017, didn’t get lifetime free Supercharging, and had to pay.

Shenkman directed Insider’s questions to his lawyer, Seth Yohalem, of Waskowski Johnson Yohalem LLP, who declined to comment. Tesla didn’t provide a comment.

In December 2016, Tesla introduced an “idle fee” for its Superchargers.

Drivers receive a series of app alerts as their vehicles finish charging. When the charge is complete, the fees kick in, but only if the Supercharger station is at least half full of Tesla cars. If less than half the bays are full, owners can leave their cars without accruing fees.

Tesla waives the fees when vehicles leave within five minutes of reaching full charge.

If drivers don’t pay, Tesla cuts the service.

Shenkman refused to pay Tesla’s idle fees

Shenkman paid $83,570 for his Model S in 2014, which was “Supercharger Enabled,” according to his purchase agreement, per the lawsuit.

Shenkman declined to pay idle fees he incurred, and was told he couldn’t access Supercharging unless he paid, according to a letter his lawyer sent Tesla in February, which was included as an exhibit in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said that Shenkman bought his Tesla “specifically because he understood that Supercharging would be free for life.”

“Plaintiff would not have purchased a Tesla otherwise.”

In the lawsuit, Shenkman said he sought to represent all early Tesla adopters to recover their costs and punitive damages. He sought an order stopping Tesla from imposing the fees.

“Tesla’s change significantly impairs the value proposition that had been promised to its early customers,” the lawsuit added.

Tesla has about 2,800 Supercharger sites globally, including about 1,100 US sites. But those sites became “congested” as Tesla sales increased, Shenkman said in his complaint.

“It appears that Tesla purported to impose Supercharging fees in order to deal with growing demand for use of Superchargers caused by Tesla’s increase in production,” Yohalem wrote in his February letter to the company.

He said Tesla had “long planned” the rollout of more vehicles, “and should have known [the rollout] would result in a shortage of available Superchargers.”

Charging is an obstacle to electric vehicle ownership, and the main reason electric vehicles owners revert to gas vehicles, according to a study by University of California Davis researchers.

Read the original article on Business Insider