Currently reading: A day in the life of a Tesla supercharger
Tesla’s chargers are easy to find, fast to fill and, for many, free to use, but are they the perfect place for both car and driver to recharge their batteries?

Spending a few hours interviewing drivers at a Tesla Supercharger location is like playing whack-a-mole: no sooner have you finished quizzing one than another has wafted silently into another bay, plugged in and gone to Starbucks. You go after them and another turns up.

The plan had been to arrive at 10.30am to prepare for the promised 11am-6pm peak period: have a coffee, ready a few questions on the lines of what’s it like and do you come here often – that sort of thing.

What I hadn’t reckoned on was that South Mimms services, tucked away in the armpit of the A1(M) and M25, is one of the electric marque’s busiest Supercharger locations. So when I arrived, four of its 12 chargers were in use – and was that another Tesla owner I could see plugging his motor in? Better collar him before he goes for that latte...

“I’ve arrived with 13% power left,” says Model S owner John Stephenson. “I wasn’t worried: a friend reckons his S was still running with minus 16%! We’ll have a coffee while it goes back to 85%. It should take around 45 minutes.”

This article was originally published on 4 November 2018. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide engaging content in these challenging times.

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Linda, his wife, likes the South Mimms set-up: “There are plenty of chargers so we’ve never had to wait, but you soon learn not to use adjacent ones because they share their power and take longer to charge.”

Plenty of chargers? True, South Mimms has 12 of the totem-style chargers and during our five hours at the site no more than five were being used at any time, and the company says it has a plan to cope with growing demand in the coming years.

It’s increasing the size of existing locations, as well as rolling out additional ones. For example, its Hopwood Park services location near Birmingham has recently gained a further 10 chargers (from six to 16).

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The trouble is, short of taking more car parking space, I’m not sure where it will find the room at South Mimms. Fortunately, each Supercharger powers two bays but, as Linda pointed out, they share power, meaning the charging rate drops. Better make that two lattes at Starbucks...

Can’t spare the time? Tesla has 500 so-called ‘destination chargers’ in reserve at places such as hotels, spas and shopping centres where you can pop in for a quick top-up on the hoof. There are also thousands more third- party charge sites around the UK.

But it’s nicer to breeze into a pukka Supercharger location like the one at South Mimms, away from the hoi polloi fighting for parking spaces in their old gas guzzlers. So nice that a surprising number of the Tesla drivers recharging at South Mimms admitted they only live around the corner. Drivers such as Paul Walker, who works in corporate gifting: “I’ve got one of Tesla’s domestic chargers but I haven’t installed it. South Mimms is between my home and office, so it suits me to pop in and catch up with work. I like the interruption!”

And Bernard Greenwold, a property developer: “I only live around the corner and the office isn’t far but I’m here twice a week because it’s so convenient.”

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Barry Chapman, a civil engineer, is another who admits to letting his home charger gather dust while he gets his power at South Mimms.

There’s a comedy moment when Sharon Christof hops out of her Model X only to find the Supercharger cable won’t reach. She jumps back in and reverses closer until the car’s back wheels are touching the ridge marker set into the bay floor. “You’d think that given how often I’m here, I’d know how to park,” she says. “We have a domestic charger but this is more convenient and, of course, the power is free.”

Free? In fact, every new Tesla comes with an annual allowance of 1000 miles of the stuff. In addition, those people who bought their Tesla before the company’s free-power-for-life offer ended can refer one new owner to Tesla to receive it as well. Many of the drivers we spoke to were on this deal.

The ease with which Tesla owners plumb their cars into the Superchargers is an impressive sight. No wonder business drivers clocking up proper mileages have taken to the cars.

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One of them is Andrew Hodgson, CEO of a major automotive supply company. In the past two years, he’s racked up 45,000 miles at the wheel of his Model S. “Charging the car is very simple while the car itself has been totally reliable,” he says.

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Hodgson works in London but lives in Norwich: “I’m just topping it up here. I’ll take a few client calls and have a coffee, then get on my way. Once gone, I never hold back and I’ve never experienced range anxiety.”

Sean Mulhern, an outside broadcast engineer, has done 38,000 miles in two years in his Model S; Andy Brown, a software writer, 30,000 miles since April 2017 (“My Model X has been from Monaco to Scotland”); and Hayley Elton 20,000 miles in 12 months in her Model S. Gary Woodhatch, a company director, is on 11,000 miles since December in his. “South Mimms is a great place for networking,” he says. “I’m sure we’ve got business out of it.”

Many of the Tesla owners I speak to are self-employed and their cars a business expense. To them, the financial advantages of EV ownership are obvious.

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“To me, as a company owner, the first-year allowance on corporation tax available on an electric car was a no-brainer,” says Model S driver Paul Richman, owner of a video production company. “Buying the Model S was the only way I could afford to have a luxury car. There’s a sting in the tail at the end of the contract in the shape of a £6000 tax bill but, for the moment, I’m happy.”

As, it seems, were all of the 15 Tesla drivers I encountered during the course of my five-hour visit. Well, almost all. Amit Patel, a property developer and South Mimms regular, was unconvinced by his Model S’s interior finish, the small number of options and the drab colours. “To be honest, I’m an Audi man,” he said. “It was the Tesla’s free electricity that hooked me.”

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Now there’s a thing: how busy will South Mimms and other Supercharger locations be when those cash-conscious Model S owners have to start paying for their electricity? Watch those spaces...

Supercharger vs chargemaster

During five hours at Tesla’s South Mimms Supercharger location, I interviewed 15 drivers. Tesla later confirmed that by the end of the day, 76 had visited it.

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Compare this figure with the seven drivers of an assortment of electric cars, none of them Teslas, who during one day in June visited Chargemaster’s location beside the M25 at the Runnymede on Thames hotel in Egham, a place the vehicle charging company claims is among its busiest (‘A day in the life of an EV charger’, 11 July).

In fairness to Chargemaster, its small number can in part be explained by the location’s low visibility, the provision of just one charging point and the fact that although the power is cheap, it’s not free.

All that said, Tesla’s set-up kicked Chargemaster’s into touch in two key ways: the joined-up user experience it offers and the confidence the Tesla name inspires in drivers. Now, if a charge company can replicate that but serve all makes, it’ll clean up.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Make Car Window... 1 July 2020

My nearest charge point is at home.

If I didn't have off road parking my nearest rapid charge points are 1 Mike north and another 1 Mile south

dezzn 5 November 2018

Up north

Fine for South Mimms, but don't see anything like this up north!! 

Neil2129 12 November 2018

Yes, Up North too.

dezzn wrote:

Fine for South Mimms, but don't see anything like this up north!! 


Not looking hard enough. Edinburgh, Abington, Dundee, Aviemore, Gretna Green, Washington, Scotch Corner, Penrith, Charnock Richard, Leeds are all Tesla Supercharger locations.

dezzn 12 November 2018

Yes, Up North too

OK agreed, but most have only 2 points and nearly all require you to stop for coffee etc. 

Fine if your regular journey takes you past one, but still far from compatible to ICE convenience where fill ups don't require route planning. (My nearest fuel station is less than 1 mile away, the nearest Tesla station is over 20 miles away). 

coolboy 5 November 2018

great charging network

so far. We will see how it will cope in the future. And the TESLA future isn't rosy, for sure, and I'm only talking about Product, not even trying to comment TESLA's twitter performances if you follow my reasoning. What it is known so far is that TESLA is working on a future Truck, model Y CUV and a sporty new roadster. Then there is talk about an US-style pick-up truck, talking about traveling to Mars on the same lines we hear people talking about an agreement regarding Brexit... nothing 100% dotted & agreeded!

So, back to all those prospective  customers for Model S and Model X: what is going to replace your lovely set of wheels in 3-5 years then? The version 18.3 Model S? The version 19.7 Model X? It will be the same facelifted car! Is that enough for you? Will you happily share your charging bay with the newer Model Y next to you, cheapper but with the same right to throotle down your charging speed & experience? What? Elon tweeted best ever charging expereince in Mars, defenitly comming in 3 months? Yeah, right.

Not going to drum about saving the planet or fast acceleration capabilities, the thing is that at least 70% worldwide Tesla customers (if not more) are doing it as a lease purchase. I doubt there is great market prospects for all those off-lease cars, since TESLA opted to provide so far rediculous support to their cars outside warranty. Do you want parts? Go find them from Poland and Estonia on ebay. Not all bad, now TESLA opened online access to part catalogues, at least you might know the correct part-number to look for.

Last note on the VW thing rant: diesel is as clean as petrol, you only choose to breath away from them because it does better for your health and sanity. But mind, VW has alredy the e-Golf, a great EV that doesn't cost you an arm and leg and suits well as the 2nd car for your home.