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Supercharging a Tesla Model S at a Grocery Store

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It’s fitting that Michigan is shaped like a mitten. Late last year Gov. Rick Snyder raised his palm to Tesla, halting the electric car upstart’s wish to directly sell through company-owned stores in Michigan. The forward-thinking electric automobile maker is more than welcome to peddle its vehicles through franchised, independent Michigan dealerships, but that’s not in Tesla’s business plan.

Michiganders must purchase a new Model S in another state, such as Illinois, and then register it in Michigan. There is no law preventing Tesla from installing its ultra-fast Supercharger stations in Michigan.

So its first proprietary Michigan Supercharger opened near the city of St. Joseph in December 2013. The second one opened in late June, about 10 minutes from my home in Grand Rapids. A third Michigan Supercharger is due to go live imminently. There are now 487 Supercharger locations with 2,742 Superchargers (charging cables) in North America.

A standard 30-amp public vehicle charger adds only about 10 miles of range per 30 minutes of charge time. Tesla’s 40-amp home charger bumps that to about 14 miles per half-hour charge, and Tesla’s $2,000 dual-charger option cranks it up to 29 miles of additional range by allowing the Model S to take advantage of home charging connections above 40 amps. But the Supercharger dwarfs those numbers. We’re talking 170 miles of range added over that same 30-minute window. Tesla Model S owners may use the Superchargers for free—no other electric cars are presently compatible.

I recently borrowed a friend’s 2015 Tesla Model S P85D to try out the new Supercharger in Grand Rapids. It’s in the corner of a Meijer supermarket parking lot, just off I-96.

The large wires—now buried underground—hint at the extreme amperage used at the megafast charger complex. The fans whirring away as I sat in the Supercharging Model S made me think back to the mammoth cables I saw when the station was under construction.

My loaner Tesla’s display informed me I was gaining 162 miles of range per half-hour from a 315-amp (368-volt) connection. It’s crazy to think about how much juice was being run into the car—kind of makes your hair stand on end just thinking about it. Each of the eight Superchargers carry an “A” or “B” label (1A, 1B, etc.). Tesla notes that if you have the option, always pick a Supercharger number that isn’t charging another vehicle. Your Tesla will charge faster on Supercharger 2A versus 1B, if 1A is in use by another car—power is shared between same-number Superchargers.

“In 2010 we installed electric vehicle chargers at three of our stores, compatible with the current generation of mass-produced electric vehicles,” says Frank Guglielmi, Meijer’s senior communications director. “Currently, we have the Tesla Superchargers at stores in Lexington, Kentucky; Englewood, Ohio (near Dayton); the Cascade Township (Grand Rapids, Michigan) location, and one soon to open in Pittsfield Township (near Ann Arbor, Michigan). We chose locations that are close to expressways.”

The first two Meijer Superchargers are close to I-75, which helps Tesla build a national network, he says.

“Tesla approached us,” Guglielmi explains. “Tesla covers all the costs for installation, maintenance, and power use. Meijer allows Tesla to use the property without any charge.”

Do shoppers use the Superchargers?

“A 20-minute timeframe for charging is ideal for a retail setting,” he says. “The (conventional) electric vehicle chargers at our stores are used more by Meijer team members rather than customers, due to the four- to five-hour charge time required. If someone is going to the store to shop or is stopping on a long trip to charge, the 20-minute charging time is more conducive to going into the store for a quick shopping trip.”

Tesla’s public relations department says the Michigan Superchargers are important to providing free long-distance travel across the U.S.

“The Grand Rapids site will enable travel between West Michigan and Detroit along I-96,” Tesla says. “The Ann Arbor station will enable travel from Chicago through the St. Joseph Supercharger to Ann Arbor and Detroit.”

A number of people stopped by to ask me questions about the Tesla Model S P85D while I was charging it. Clearly, the Superchargers help build Meijer’s image. Though at first I thought the discount chain location might have trouble attracting Tesla owners—either local or traveling—I saw at least one such customer the day after I charged my loaner.

I saw a mother and her son loading a lot of groceries into a Model S. Then they unplugged the charging cable and headed on their way.

Other than lending the car company a small chunk of land in the back corner of its parking lots, the Supercharger setup costs the grocery store chain virtually nothing. The relationship allows Tesla to grow its Supercharger network and pay only for parts, installation, and electricity. It seems a pretty good setup for both Meijer and Tesla, as well as Tesla owners.

Supercharger infrastructure growth isn’t slowing down. The company’s website gives a rough idea of future plans. Expect two more Superchargers in Michigan by the end of 2015 and five more by the end of 2016. Once the Tesla Model X SUV and the smaller Model 3 arrive, we’ll see if Tesla finally has the model lineup and financial strength to battle its way out of substantial debt. Perhaps someday Michiganders will even be able to buy a Tesla, direct, in their home state.