Unlike other EV chargers, Tesla’s are easy to find, fast to fill and, for many, free to use. We visit the perfect place for both car and driver to recharge their batteries
4 November 2018

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.”

Our Verdict

Tesla Model S 95D

In theory, this all-electric luxury car looks a hit. So is it in practice?

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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. But how busy will they be when the Model 3 arrives?

Tesla wouldn’t confirm the number of advance orders it has taken in the UK for the new model but, given that worldwide the figure stands at 420,000, it’s reasonable to assume a few of them will be jostlingfor charging space at South Mimms, as well as at the car maker’s 49 other Supercharger locations. The company says it has a plan.

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).

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.”

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.

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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

John Evans

Read more 

Tesla Model S review

Tesla Model S vs Jaguar I-Pace: EV twin test

From an Aston Martin to a Tesla Model S: why one owner made the change

Join the debate

Comments
25

4 November 2018

 Yes, a great insight into running a Tesla, but, most of who you talked to were running a Tesla as a company Vehicle, were there no private owners?, some had done big miles 40,000+ in one case, another had gone from Monaco to Scotland even, but, as a private buy there still damned expensive, it would be interesting to test a well used example to see how it has stood up to the everyday life of an EV Car like this.

Peter Cavellini.

4 November 2018

It’s always worth mentioning to all those who buy electric smugmobiles that 85% of a car’s environmental impact is its manufacture, so they might have been better off keeping the car they had, given that those who can afford these overpriced and overhyped machines tend to replace them every three years, which of course from an environmental point of view is madness.

One might also wonder how many non-recyclable coffee cups will be used by all these people while they wait for their cars to charge up.

Just saying...

 

 

4 November 2018

Most people who buy or lease new cars change them every 2 or 3 years. Plenty of people buy 2 or 3 year old cars & run them for another 2 or 3 years. Indications are that the Tesla batteries will be at about 75% capacity at 10 years/200,000 miles and 50% capacity at 15 years/300,000 miles. They are expensive to buy new & exist mainly in the executive car market, along side high end BMWs, Mercs, Jags, etc., and partly as an amazing electronic gadget. They may not have the executive finish people are used to in German cars, being plain & uncluttered, but they are fabulous to drive, wickedly fast off the line, silently relaxing and can more or less drive themselves long distance (especially with the latest v9 over-the-air software enhancements), as well as costing next to nothing to run. The majority of owners charge them at home overnight on cheap rate electricity, while Superchargers are for travelling over the 250-300 mile range in a day. Bear in mind that these cars are replacing fossil Jags & Range Rovers which normally only manage 25mpg on a good day, so there are massive savings if you regularly travel long distance. Why not visit your local Tesla centre & take a test drive? The danger is that you may then need to sell your house to feed your habit!

4 November 2018
Rocket Pete wrote:

It’s always worth mentioning to all those who buy electric smugmobiles that 85% of a car’s environmental impact is its manufacture, so they might have been better off keeping the car they had, given that those who can afford these overpriced and overhyped machines tend to replace them every three years, which of course from an environmental point of view is madness.

One might also wonder how many non-recyclable coffee cups will be used by all these people while they wait for their cars to charge up.

Just saying...

 

 

Well no shit, Sherlock. Building an EV is obviously far less sustainable than building no car at all, but each new EV sold is effectively one less new ICE car. If the goal is to greatly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, EV's are a step in the right direction if we can choose where the power comes from.

Don't get me started on coffee cups.

FMS

4 November 2018
Rocket Pete wrote:

It’s always worth mentioning to all those who buy electric smugmobiles that 85% of a car’s environmental impact is its manufacture, so they might have been better off keeping the car they had, given that those who can afford these overpriced and overhyped machines tend to replace them every three years, which of course from an environmental point of view is madness.

One might also wonder how many non-recyclable coffee cups will be used by all these people while they wait for their cars to charge up.

Just saying...

 

 

 

REALLY shouldn't have bothered...those including YOU, who do NOTHING but moan and offer NOTHING by way of an alternative solution...sigh. 

4 November 2018
FMS wrote:

Rocket Pete wrote:

It’s always worth mentioning to all those who buy electric smugmobiles that 85% of a car’s environmental impact is its manufacture, so they might have been better off keeping the car they had, given that those who can afford these overpriced and overhyped machines tend to replace them every three years, which of course from an environmental point of view is madness.

One might also wonder how many non-recyclable coffee cups will be used by all these people while they wait for their cars to charge up. FMS@, Pot Kettle springs to mind....

Just saying...

 

 

 

REALLY shouldn't have bothered...those including YOU, who do NOTHING but moan and offer NOTHING by way of an alternative solution...sigh. 

Peter Cavellini.

FMS

5 November 2018
Peter Cavellini wrote:

FMS wrote:

Rocket Pete wrote:

It’s always worth mentioning to all those who buy electric smugmobiles that 85% of a car’s environmental impact is its manufacture, so they might have been better off keeping the car they had, given that those who can afford these overpriced and overhyped machines tend to replace them every three years, which of course from an environmental point of view is madness.

One might also wonder how many non-recyclable coffee cups will be used by all these people while they wait for their cars to charge up. FMS@, Pot Kettle springs to mind....

Just saying...

 

 

 

REALLY shouldn't have bothered...those including YOU, who do NOTHING but moan and offer NOTHING by way of an alternative solution...sigh. 

 

Petey poop once again copying other posts and adding nothing of ANY consequence to the debate...quelle surprise...

4 November 2018

The reason many Tesla owners prefer Superchargers to charging at home is the speed - a home charger can never replicate that, so if you pop home in the middle of the day 45 mins will not help much.

The reasons Chargemaster and the other charge points are inferior, apart from the much lower speeds (being AC not DC) is that a) they are often broken or blocked and b) the electricity is ridiculously expensive. 

My hybrid uses fossil-based fuel at a lower cost to do the 30 miles or so I would get on electricity if I paid them to plug in.  So why would I bother to plug in away from home - I don't!

4 November 2018

Inkpen, I agree that those who buy/lease cars change them every three years, rendering the question of battery life irrelevant for them. The used market may well be reluctant to take on these vehicles for the very reason that replacement battteries (which consume finite resource boron and also highly toxic substances such as cadmium) but one might regard a three year old electric Leaf as a bargain simply because of its monumental depreciation.

My main issue is that electric cars are marketed as “planet saving” and bought mostly by folk who making the same claim..... somewhat disingenuous in my opinion.

Regarding Tesla cars, they just aren’t made to the same fit and finish of European vehicles, and I’m betting that by the time the 3 appears on the U.K. market it’ll be halfway through its design life... how many people will be happy to wait for three years to get a new BMW 3 Series... it’ll be coming up to the facelist version after 4.

I think Tesla are doomed - I’m sure electric is the future (eventually) but they are mediocre quality, expensive, they’ll never achieve volume production before BMW, VAG, Volvo and all the rest have developed their own equivalents - at much higher quality and without the three year wait.

ps Inkpen - “cheap rate” electricity? Sorry, only people with night storage heaters still have Economy 7.

 

 

 

 

4 November 2018

Time to fill in the blanks.

I appreciate that there are a lot of EV haters out there, whether that's because they can't afford anything better that the VW Polo they have, or because jealousy really is a thing now.

I bought my Tesla last year, as a private purchase to replace my Nissan Leaf. The performance is mad, the build quality is reasonable (like a Ford, but not quite Jaguar yet), and the running costs are insignificant. If I fill the Porsche up, then it costs me north of £100, yet this, when charged overnight on economy seven (which is really easy to get your electric provider to install for free), costs less than a fiver to do 200+ miles. I'm not talking about life in the slow lane at 50mph to get that either, you can cain this thing. Mine goes 0-60mph in less than 4 seconds, or you can tone it down to "normal" car levels and it takes an agonising 7 seconds to get there :)

It seats 5 adults comfortably, has room under the boot floor, as well as the huge boot, plus even more room in the front. This thing has more space than my old pickup truck.

Supercharging it is really easy, but there are things to remember. Winter takes longer (something to do with battery chemistry and the cold), the Nissan Leaf was the same. The trick is to charge it when it is somewhere near flat (15% or less), and clear off by 80%. That will take 30-40 minutes to get another 180 miles. The last 20% to 100% would take another 40 minutes again, so its pointless waiting about (well, unless you are in Pizza Express).

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