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.

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Tesla unveils 3,100-mile Supercharger route across China as part of Musk’s plan to connect Shangai and London

Tesla supercharger
Elon Musk wants to create a charging route that stretches from Shanghai to London.

  • Tesla unveiled a Supercharger route stretching more than 3,000 miles along China’s Silk Road.
  • The route includes 27 Supercharger stations.
  • Elon Musk wants to eventually build a route spanning Shanghai to London.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Charging remains one of the biggest headaches of EV ownership – and Tesla just made it a bit easier for its Chinese customers to take long road trips with a new Supercharger route.

The electric-vehicle maker announced Sunday that it opened a Supercharger route stretching more than 5,000 kilometers – over 3,100 miles – along the Silk Road. Tesla has built 27 charging stations along the route, which it says is now the longest East-West Supercharger route in China.

It’s part of Elon Musk’s plan to establish a charging route spanning more than 6,000 miles from Shanghai to London, the company said. To accomplish that, it would need to fill gaps across Central Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe

Tesla China tweeted out a promotional video announcing the route.

Tesla’s extensive charging network, something no other company has, is one of the key advantages of buying a car from it over a competitor in the US. Elon Musk is looking to replicate that range anxiety-eliminating network in China, one of Tesla’s most critical markets. Tesla has deployed some 800 Supercharger locations in China to date.

Read more: The head of Toyota’s VC arm has $300 million to spend on startups. Here’s what he’s looking for before he offers terms.

The move to bring Supercharging to one of China’s cultural landmarks may also be part of an effort by Tesla to smooth over its image in the country after a string of public-relations crises. This year in China, Tesla has faced protests and calls from officials to ban its cars on government property.

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Tesla is one step closer to opening a 1950s-style diner at its Los Angeles supercharger station

A Tesla supercharger station at Burbank Town Center, in Burbank on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020 in Burbank, CA.

  • Tesla filed with the US trademark office last week to use its brand assets in “restaurant services.”
  • Elon Musk tweeted the idea in 2018, and Tesla applied for permits, but little has happened since.
  • The company says its superchargers can add 200 miles of range in just 15 minutes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It turns out that Elon Musk might not have been kidding around after all when he tweeted a few years ago about combining a diner with a Tesla supercharger station.

“Gonna put an old school drive-in, roller skates & rock restaurant at one of the new Tesla Supercharger locations in LA,” the Tesla CEO posted back in 2018.

A few months later, the company applied for permits for a “Tesla restaurant and supercharger station” in the adjacent city of Santa Monica, then things went mostly quiet.

But last week, Tesla’s filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office seeking to use its name and logo in offering “restaurant services.” Electrek first reported the filings, which are generally reviewed by an attorney after three months.

Food service and gas stations have long shared real estate, and national brands like Sonic and Checkers have shown that drive-up dining remains broadly popular in the US, not to mention local classics like The Varsity in Atlanta or Keller’s in Dallas.

Musk elaborated on his idea in his 2018 tweets, saying the restaurant menu could appear on a Tesla’s center display screen upon arrival, and that there would be a 1950s theme with classic film clips playing.

But the pairing of a supercharger station with a restaurant is a retro-style solution to a growing challenge for electric vehicles: They’re a hassle to charge.

A recent study found that one in five electric vehicle owners switched back to gas-powered cars due to charging issues. One analyst tested charging the Ford Mach-E on a standard household plug for one hour and only got three miles of range.

While so-called Level Two charging is substantially faster, it’s outpaced by Tesla’s new Level Three charging technology, which the company claims can add 200 miles of range in just 15 minutes.

How long does it take to eat a burger?

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