Tesla's Answer to Range Anxiety: Plug-in at the Four Seasons

Tesla Model S at Yosemite National
Tesla's all-electric Model S sedan at Yosemite National Park, on Feb. 22, 2015. Photographer: Matt Dibble

Some travelers pick hotels with a five-star chef. Vincent Argiro looks for a Tesla charging station.

A road-trip warrior who lives on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Argiro recently drove his Model S to the Bay Area. He aimed to take California’s scenic Highway One but didn’t want to run out of electricity. So he checked the charging map on Tesla’s website and found the 14-room Sea Rock Inn in Mendocino, the only place in town with a Tesla charger.

Argiro is taking advantage of Tesla Motor Inc.’s “Destination Charging” program, which began debuting at hotels and wineries last year and has grown to more than 900 locations in the U.S. and Asia. The program supplements an existing network of almost 400 Supercharger stations, located on highways between major cities, typically at shopping centers.

Tesla is building out the charging network as it prepares for a summer debut of the Model X, a sport utility vehicle designed to appeal to women. Blanketing the landscape will help Tesla take on rivals and alleviate range anxiety -- the fear of being stranded by the side of the road with a dead battery.

“When you are on a long road trip, even if there are a continuous string of Superchargers, you have to stop and sleep at some point,” said Argiro, 59, who is largely retired. “You can get off the beaten track and into scenic areas where it really doesn’t make sense for Tesla to put a Supercharger.”

Tesla has committed to delivering 55,000 vehicles this year, up 74 percent from 2014. Investors, who have pushed the shares down about 11 percent this year, will be watching closely to see if the company can meet the ambitious delivery targets after production hiccups led to an unexpected loss last quarter.

Nissan Leaf

Tesla has plenty of company in the U.S. Nissan Motor Co., which sells the all-electric Leaf, has installed about 800 high-speed charging stations in the U.S. and aims to have 1,700 by the spring of 2016. BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and ChargePoint Inc. are building 100 fast-charging stations along the East Coast and West Coast corridors to support BMW’s i3, Volkswagen’s e-Golf and other electric vehicles.

Destination charging also is key to Tesla’s efforts to boost sales in China, where the company is trying to overcome the perception that charging is inconvenient. The program will expand to Europe this spring.

“Tesla is spending money to build out this dense network,” said Ben Kallo, an analyst at R.W. Baird. “Destination charging is becoming very important, and Tesla has the first-mover advantage.”

Four Seasons

Hundreds of hotels, resorts and wineries, from the Harbor View Hotel on Martha’s Vineyard to the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, have installed Tesla High Power Wall Connectors. These can send 80 amps of electricity into a Model S and add 58 miles of range in an hour, replicating the charging capability that owners are used to at home.

Tesla drivers, already accustomed to plotting road trips based on Supercharger availability, are increasingly making lodging decisions based on where they can charge overnight. And remote inns and bed & breakfasts are quickly realizing that offering electric vehicle charging is another way to market their properties and reel in affluent travelers.

The historic Ahwahnee Hotel, built in the 1920s to lure VIPs to Yosemite National Park, recently added a Tesla charger. The Ahwahnee has two parking spots for electric vehicles: one has a Tesla charger and the other has a 15 amp charger made by Clipper Creek, which can handle various electric models. Both chargers are free to anyone who is driving within the park, but they are largely used by overnight guests at the hotel.

Zero Emissions

“Electric vehicles are a regular occurrence in the park, and we want to make sure that people can drive here with zero tailpipe emissions,” said Gary Rosenfeld, general manager of transportation for Delaware North, the concession operator within Yosemite. “A large percentage of our visitors are California residents who live within a six-hour drive.”

Yosemite-bound travelers often stop for lunch in Groveland, a gateway town 26 miles from the park’s north entrance. The 17-room Groveland Hotel -- built in 1849, during the height of the Gold Rush -- has a Tesla charging station that’s free for hotel guests and a nominal $5 charge for anyone passing through.

Owner Peggy Mosley called Tesla and asked for information about putting in a wall charger; Tesla mailed her the hardware, and she paid a local electrician to install it.

“It helps the environment, it helps our guests, it helps Tesla, and it’s given us another marketing opportunity,” Mosley said. “It’s a win-win all around.”

Fine Wine

Mosley says Tesla customers are great guests. The hotel has an award-winning wine cellar with over 550 labels.

“Tesla owners enjoy fine wine,” she says with a laugh.

Bob and Josephine Erlach recently drove their Model S from Santa Rosa, California, to the Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite. They were more than happy to plug in for the night.

“This is the first time we’ve stayed overnight with the Tesla,” said Bob Erlach, a dentist. “Now that it’s here in Yosemite, this will be a premiere destination.”

While Tesla owners tend to be wealthy -- a fully loaded Model S sells for about $100,000 -- not all destinations on the charging network are deluxe. The Suds Hut Famous Chicken & Casino in Helena, Montana, a Holiday Inn in Owatonna, Minnesota, and a Best Western in Fresno, California, all have chargers.

Renee Flowers is director of marketing at Select Registry, which promotes quality bed & breakfasts, inns and small hotels. More than 100 Select Registry members are working with Tesla to get wall chargers installed. So far, Tesla has largely picked up the tab for the cost of both the charging hardware and the installation. Small lodging establishments benefit because they are listed on Tesla’s website and eventually will appear on the dashboard navigation system.

Argiro, the British Columbian road-tripper, has already stayed at a half-dozen establishments offering Tesla charging.

“It’s becoming an important contributor to the way that my wife and I plan trips,” he said. “In every case that I’ve done this, the hotel owners are overjoyed to see you. They all want to come out and look at the car.”

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