Tesla in China Part 2: the Problem about Supercharging stations

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Nothing to charge here.

This is Part 2 in our series about the problems Tesla is facing in China. Part 1, about stores and service centers, was published on February 11. Today we take a look at Tesla’s Supercharger network in China, which is far too small to cover the whole country. How many stations do they have now, and why don’t they have more?

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A two-stall Supercharger station at Tesla’s China headquarters in Beijing.

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Tesla has 59 Supercharging stations in China, according to the company’s Chinese-language website. Most stations are rather small, with two or four stalls. The largest stations in China have eight stalls. The total number of stalls in China is 228, divided by: 3 x 8-stall, 14 x 6-stall, 18 x 4 stall, and 24 x 2 stall.


Geographically most Supercharger stations are located in the east and south. There are only two stations in the entire north east, and there are no stations at all in the entire west, so if you have a Tesla in Tibet only prayers might (or might not) charge up your car.

The heaviest concentration of stations is in the Shanghai area, with fifteen stations including five in the city proper.  The Beijing is less fortunate with only seven including six in the city. Strangely, there isn’t a single station to the west of the capital, so from there you can only go east (a bit), south or southwest. Guangzhou is the far south is doing well with four stations within the city, impressive especially as Tesla still doesn’t have a store there.

And what about Tesla’s spectacular plan to build a ‘supercharger network’ linking Beijing and Shanghai?


The shortest way is the eastern route with a road distance of 1250 kilometer. There are no supercharger stations in the center section so this way seems off-limits at the moment. An alternative 1550 km south-southeast route via Jinan, Suzhou, and Nanjing seems however possible.

In short; Tesla doesn’t have enough Supercharger stations to cover the whole of China, they are too small, and what they have now is heavily concentrated on the east and south (Tesla’s website does not list any stations under construction). When Tesla wants to sell more than 120 cars a month in China it needs to expand much faster. Why does that seem so hard?

When Tesla came to China they were thinking like this: “We are a cool electric car company, the mighty Chinese government wants electric cars, so that’s a win-win and we are going to sell a lot down there, and very fast, like tomorrow.”

This thinking is hampering Tesla’s operations in China until today. The central government wants electric cars but preferably Chinese ones, and the government mighty be mighty but it is far from almighty. When it comes to building superchargers Tesla didn’t realize the central government basically has no sway over local governments when it comes to building things, they can’t order or even ask.


Tired of expanding.

Building things in China takes a lot of time, especially when the company is question is American and the building in question something totally new. Building such starts with talks and getting permits on a very local neighborhood-committee level, and than all the way up to district and city, and it can be even worse outside the big cities, where township and village levels have their say as well. For each and every station, the process has to start all over again.

A related problem are the construction companies. In China there are no construction companies that operate nation-wide. Most operate on city or provincial level, and many are at least partly owned by the very same local governments that make life so hard on the permit-side. A company like Tesla is thus basically required to hire a new construction company for every station it builds.

This all takes a lot of time, frustrating Tesla’s expansion in China. But these problems hamper a lot of other companies too, and Tesla could have known about it before they came to country, had they done their homework better. It appears however that Tesla China is finally realizing adding superchargers alone doesn’t work, and that there is another much faster way to add more chargers: operating ‘destination chargers’ with charging partners using Wall Connectors. This is seriously starting to take-off in China, and is therefore the subject of Part 3 in this series, to be published soon later.


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  1. I think we need to give Tesla some credit though, what they have managed to do is pretty impressive. The whole ordeal with the Beijing-Shanghai route is just a result of them needing to link up more “profitable” routes first, why do you think the Bullet Train from Shanghai to Beijing takes that route as well? Also of course they will put more stations in Shanghai as that city is the most “friendly” (if you like) for Tesla what with their cars being eligible for free plates. And also the south and east of Beijing are just so much richer than the west so obviously so they’ll focus on expansion there first. Put it this way, Qoros sold 5,928 cars in the first 11 months of last year. They have a wider range of products and are a cheaper car compared to the Tesla and they have been on sale for longer and use conventional gasoline, but as a percentage of the 20 odd million cars sold last year (around 0.03), their contribution is next to none. If you multiply Teslas supposed January sales number by 12, they represent around 2% of last years sales. Sure, 2% is not great considering their success in the USA and other countries, as well as their long term goals, but we have to give them credit where credit is due. China is a complicated place legally, you’ve got to take it one step at a time and focus your resources where they matter most. Also, if superchargers do become overused, surely they could just increase the number of stalls, right?

    Anyway, I will leave it there for now but I want to finish by saying this – Tesla set itself a very ambitious goal to sell a couple thousand cars in China this year. Whether or not they reach that goal is yet to be determined but to quote one Chinese Tesla user (not exactly word for word) – “We are Guinea Pigs for Tesla and we knew that when we bought the car”, so the first adopters are willing to compromise somewhat so long as they get a quality product in the long term.

    Ok I just came up with another thing, the State Grid (or someone like that) recently completed a charging network from Beijing to Shanghai. Tesla did that practically a year after entering China whereas the State Grid did it years after electric cars came out in China. Tesla has the motivation, however the problem is probably more to do with the legal systems in China rather than Tesla itself.

  2. Ok, I now completely disagree with everything you say about Teslas superchargers, allow me to explain. Today we hired a Roewe E50 which in itself is a pretty good car, easy to drive and quite comfortable if a bit rough on badly paved roads, a more detailed review to come on http://www.facebook.com/bydforthewin. Rent from 1hai is around 120 kuai a day which is extremely cheap and great value. Today we drove it 70kms with the range dropping from 123 km to around 38km on the indicator. We were happy with the car until we tried to charge it (as we have it for two days until tomorrow). We did go to Puxi in the car and had been told by the man working at the shop we got it from that all other stores had chargers and that you were free to use them, a little research confirmed someone else has hired an E50 from 1hai and was able to charge for two hours at a shop in puxi. Hooray!, we thought as one of the shops is very close to one of our favourite restaurants. However upon our arrival we discovered that in fact NOT all the shops have chargers, which was very annoying as we wanted to keep the battery as full as possible, even though there was no way we were going to flatten it. This meant we carried on, ate lunch, drove a bit more and went home. Once home we tried to charge the car. We live on the ground floor of an apartment block so trying to charge the car involved running 2 extension leads to the car which the charger was then plugged into. A bit weird but initially it looked like it would work. Until the fuse blew, again, and again and again! So we gave up, called the original store we got the car from and asked them if we could bring the car to charge it. They said “of course” but “only when it is dark as the security company doesn’t want us doing it during the day as charging them at the store involves parking the car on the sidewalk in peoples way. This means we have to take the car back in half an hour (at the time of writing) and come back home on an electric bike and get the car again tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock.

    How does this link to Tesla you may ask? Well, YOU CAN EASILY FIND WHERE CHARGING STATIONS ARE IF YOU HAVE A TESLA! I tried for a very long time to find even just one charging station in Puxi that we could use. But to no avail, and the app “Chargedot” was just as useless, indicating the closest charging stations were a fast one at Hongkou Stadium and a normal one in Xujiahui and that was it as far as close chargers go, the others are in JinShan and Jiading. There is no map of charging stations for Shanghai and frankly, I have never seen one. Even baidu only comes up with one at Shanghai University. At least Tesla tells you where their chargers are and also Tesla doesn’t just have superchargers, there are literally dozens of medium speed Tesla-specific chargers littered around Shanghai which I have actually seen, mostly near social hotspots. China claims to be rapidly expanding its charging network but as far as I am concerned, their efforts are simply not good enough as the chargers are in the wrong places. There are next to no public chargers in downtown Shanghai which should be electric car paradise and there is certainly no map telling you where any really are. Tesla is very new to China and has successfully done both those things – built lots of stations and actually made it easy for people to find them. Also Tesla cars have such a large range that you don’t even need to worry so much, plus a lot of the Teslas in Shanghai are close to the Jinqiao supercharger so they probably just go there. If you want to look at the reasons why Tesla won’t succeed, why not look at why electric vehicles are still failing to be taken seriously in China? You can give away all the free plates and subsidies you want, but ultimately people are going to keep buying the BYD Qin and Roewe 550 plug-in simply because you need not worry about not being able to find a plug as they have a normal engine as well.

    As far as the renting of the Roewe E50 is concerned? Do it, 120 kuai a day is seriously good value, but only do it for one day at a time unless you live right near a store and can leave it there at night and get them to charge it. End of very long comment 🙂 Ok one last thing, you can also rent a Tesla Model S from 1hai. for 1400 kuai a day! Better put that on my list to Santa 🙂

  3. If this article was written by a Tesla owner… well it would not have been written. For myself and the vast majority of Tesla owners, daily charging takes place in the home each night. Supercharging stations are primarily used for trips and the trips need a planning before leaving.


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