Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA) is innovating again, this time revealing plans to build out a charging network powered by solar energy.
It plans to spread them across major U.S. highways to expand its 200-mile industry-leading driving range and offer the service to Tesla car owners for free.
Constructed in secret, the first six "superchargers" are already installed across California, and in parts of Nevada and Arizona.
Tesla plans to install 100 superchargers over the next few years at a cost of $250,000 each.
"The technology at the heart of the Supercharger was developed internally and leverages the economies of scale of existing charging technology already used by the Model S, enabling Tesla to create the Supercharger device at minimal cost," the company says. The electricity used by the Supercharger comes from a solar carport system provided by SolarCity.
Teslas says the Supercharger is much more powerful than other charging technologies. It provides almost 100 kilowatts of power to the Model S, with the potential for 120 kilowatts in the future. This replenishes three hours of driving at 60 mph in about half an hour - about the time it takes for people to stop at a highway rest stop and have lunch.
Drivers will find these charging stations on some of the most heavily used highways in the US, "enabling fast, purely electric travel from Vancouver to San Diego, Miami to Montreal and Los Angeles to New York," the company says. Then Tesla will move on to Europe and Asia, where it will begin opening supercharging stations in late 2013.
Each supercharger will generate more solar energy than cars can consume from charging, sending the excess to the grid. By adding even a small solar system at home, electric car owners can extend this same principle to local city driving too.
"Tesla's Supercharger network is a game changer for electric vehicles, providing long distance travel that has a level of convenience equivalent to gasoline cars for all practical purposes. However, by making electric long distance travel at no cost, an impossibility for gasoline cars, Tesla is demonstrating just how fundamentally better electric transport can be," says Elon Musk, Tesla CEO. "We are giving Model S the ability to drive almost anywhere for free on pure sunlight."
Tesla is also exposing potential customers to its cars in unique way - it's opening dealerships in shopping malls.