Charging infrastructure in and between capital cities is the first destination on the journey of Tesla Motors’ Australian strategy. The Sydney to Melbourne route is now completely covered by ‘Supercharger’ stations, all of which are free to use. With their sites on Brisbane next, Tesla is slowly but surely overcoming the nagging issue of ‘range anxiety’ for its main customer bases.
Heath Walker is the marketing and communications manager for Tesla Motors Australia, and he chats with Grow about the brand’s approach to the Australian market.
Grow: Tesla famously doesn’t do any paid advertising – how are you marketing the brand?
Walker: We don’t do any paid advertising or paid sponsorship and there are probably two reasons. One,we want to invest the money back into the infrastructure to give our owners what they need in the short-term, which is charging infrastructure for long business trips.
The other reason is that it’s very difficult to explain what a Model S is and does in 30 seconds, and we have found that our best marketers are our owners. For them, or anyone that hops in our vehicles, to share their experiences, is the best way.
Grow: How are you addressing the issue of range anxiety, that there’s not a network of service stations everywhere?
Walker: It’s a great question and it’s an education piece really, because it’s a matter of changing the mindset. Range anxiety hasn’t come about because of electric vehicles. The thing that’s caused range anxiety is internal combustion engines - we all sit there and wait for the light to come on to tell us that we need petrol and then we start to panic and look for a petrol station.The reality of our new electric vehicle is that you plug in when you get home, just like you do your mobile phone, and you wake up with the equivalent of a full tank of petrol every morning.
90-95% of your charging is done at home and the additional five to 10% is done as a means of convenience or free charging.
We put in ‘destination charging’ at hotels, shopping centres, resorts and private parking. The other major point is for the long distance traveller – that’s probably been the biggest hurdle for electric vehicles – but our Superchargers are the fastest chargers on Earth and they charge half full in 20 minutes or a full charge in just an hour, and we pay for them.
The ability to charge for free certainly helps with the ‘revive and survive’ message on road trips. Every 200 to 250 kilometres you stop off for 20 minutes, grab a coffee, something to eat and if you do that every time you only need to charge half full because the rapid charge really occurs in that first 20 minutes.
Grow: What will we see next in terms of developing the Australian market?
Walker: We are starting test drives in Brisbane – this will be run out of a hotel in the short-term. Sydney now has a second store as well. The Gundagai Supercharger will complete the Sydney-Melbourne route and then we’ll look at going north to Brisbane with the Supercharger network thereafter.
Our focus is to join the major cities from our cost and development point of view, because at the moment we are paying for these things. So we need to make sure we work where our population is and where our owner base is and that’s Melbourne and Sydney. It will be Brisbane, based on opening a store there, so if we can connect those three then we’ll probably look to go west thereafter.
Grow: There’s a lot of territory out there.
Walker: There’s a big, big tranche, but if we can get to Adelaide and then Perth, we will. What we will do in the short-term is look at locations that people drive to, whether it’s down to Esperance or up towards the north beaches of Perth, and find locations along there. In the interim, destination charging certainly helps with that because if you can drive 500 kilometres and then stop at a hotel and charge like you would at home, you’ve got no issue.