- A Tesla owner said Tesla broke its promise to give early customers free lifetime Supercharger access.
- Tesla adds a fee when fully charged cars are left at Supercharger charging stations.
- The owner, who filed a class-action lawsuit on June 24, had refused to pay these “idle fees.”
A Tesla owner filed a class-action complaint against the automaker, saying it broke its promise of free lifelong electric-vehicle charging for some owners.
To boost sales from 2012 to 2016, Tesla promised buyers of most of its models that they could use its network of Superchargers for free for life.
But in late 2016, the company introduced fees for drivers who left their cars at Superchargers after the vehicles had finished charging. These US “idle fees” are $0.50 a minute, or $1 a minute when the station is at full capacity.
Kevin Shenkman, a lawyer in Southern California, filed a complaint against the automaker on June 24 in Alameda County Superior Court, saying the fees meant that “Tesla broke its promise of free Supercharging for life.” Bloomberg first reported on the complaint.
The complaint accused Tesla of breaching its contract and violating California’s advertising and competition laws. The lawsuit said it would seek class-action status, with class members limited to Californians who bought a Supercharger-enabled vehicle before December 17, 2016.
People who bought some Tesla models with smaller batteries and those who bought cars after March 2017 didn’t get lifetime free Supercharging.
Shenkman directed Insider’s questions to his lawyer, Seth Yohalem, of Waskowski Johnson Yohalem LLP, who declined to comment. Tesla didn’t provide a comment.
In December 2016, Tesla introduced the idle fee for its Superchargers.
Drivers receive a series of app alerts as their vehicles finish charging. When the charge is complete, and if the Supercharger station is at least half full of Tesla cars, the fees kick in. If fewer than half of the bays are full, owners can leave their cars without accruing fees.
Tesla waives the fees when vehicles leave within five minutes of reaching a full charge.
If drivers don’t pay, Tesla cuts the service.
Shenkman refused to pay Tesla’s idle fees
Shenkman paid $83,570 for his Model S in 2014, which his purchase agreement said was “Supercharger Enabled,” the lawsuit said.
Shenkman declined to pay idle fees he incurred and was told he couldn’t access Supercharging unless he paid, a letter his lawyer sent Tesla in February said. It was included as an exhibit in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said that Shenkman bought his Tesla “specifically because he understood that Supercharging would be free for life” and that he “would not have purchased a Tesla otherwise.”
In the lawsuit, Shenkman said he sought to represent all early Tesla adopters to recover their costs and punitive damages. He sought an order to stop Tesla from imposing the fees.
“Tesla’s change significantly impairs the value proposition that had been promised to its early customers,” the lawsuit said.
Tesla has about 2,800 Supercharger sites globally, including about 1,100 in the US. But they became “congested” as Tesla sales increased, Shenkman said in his complaint.
“It appears that Tesla purported to impose Supercharging fees in order to deal with growing demand for use of Superchargers caused by Tesla’s increase in production,” Yohalem wrote in his letter to Tesla in February.
He said Tesla had “long planned” the rollout of more vehicles “and should have known” that it “would result in a shortage of available Superchargers.”
A study by University of California Davis researchers published earlier this year argued that charging is an obstacle to electric-vehicle ownership and the main reason EV owners revert to gas vehicles.