Inside The Tesla Exclusive Charging Lounge

Posted: Oct 29, 2019

KETTLEMAN CITY, Calif.  Almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, at a highway stop of fast-food joints and gas stations, Tesla Inc. is carrying out a social experiment in modern fueling.

The electric automaker has a wide charging plaza for Teslas here, near the crest of a hill. Forty of its trademark fast chargers are lined up under canopies of solar panels. The company has two other charging plazas in California around this size.

The unique part of these plazas is what Tesla owners do while their cars charge.

In Kettleman City, a white and red building emblazoned with a giant T has a locked glass door with a keypad. The only ones with the code are Tesla owners, who find it on the dashboard screen of their Teslas. Inside is, for the lack of a better term, a deluxe waiting lounge.

Electric car charging takes a lot longer than the five minutes other car owners spend filling their gasoline tanks. The lounge here, in the dusty flat of the Central Valley, is Tesla's idea for how to help drivers mark time as their batteries fill.

Fast-charging stations — ones that provide a decent jolt in a half an hour — are found at gas stations, in Walmart parking lots, at suburban shopping malls and outside curio shops. The idea behind locating chargers in many of these places is to give drivers somewhere to go while they wait, while selling them dining and shopping.

Charging companies and automakers are in an escalating race to design chargers and cars that can charge faster, betting that matching a gas station's in-and-out feel will generate more EV sales. And pilot projects in the United States and other countries are experimenting with embedding chargers in the road, so the electric vehicles never have to stop to charge at all.

A 50-kilowatt fast charger, the most common kind, delivers a charge for 150 miles in an hour. Tesla's latest charging standard supports peak rates of as much as 250 kW, which the company claims charges up to 1,000 miles an hour, or about 75 miles of range in five minutes. One charging station provider, Volkswagen's Electrify America, is building chargers that top out at 350 kW. But electric cars now on the road aren't yet designed to accept a charge that powerful.

For now, the idea behind the Tesla lounge in Kettleman City appears to be to give Tesla owners a premium members-only experience as they wait, while selling them on Tesla itself.

One of the customers last Thursday was George Aviet, a restaurateur from Silicon Valley who has frequent business down south in Burbank. After he docked his Tesla, he breezed through the door and gave a familiar wave to the young female receptionist, who is also the T-shirt saleswoman and the barista.

"You get a good cappuccino or espresso, and a good sandwich, and you have this lovely lady," he said, as he worked through a bready packet he'd gotten from a high-end vending machine. "And everyone is very friendly."

By David Ferris Monday
October 28, 2019
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