Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tesla's Model S Supercharger puts a buzz in Gilroy

As if the outlet mall, Gilroy Gardens and garlic weren't enough to put Gilroy on the map, the Silicon Valley suburb has a new claim to fame that may eventually eclipse the rest: Within weeks it will be home to one of Tesla Motors (TSLA)' high-powered, space-age electric car Superchargers.

Yes, I'm serious. A Tesla Supercharger. One of only six in California and the only one in the Bay Area. This thing comes with a buzz you can't beat, and Gilroy is the place to see it. The station means a quick charge for those who blow $50,000-plus on an all-electric car, which in turn means they can take real road trips in the things instead of just tooling up and down I-280 flaunting their gasless engines in the face of Prius drivers.

The charging station is a look into the future. That in itself gives it Silicon Valley star power. The station, under construction along a back alley of the Gilroy Premium Outlets, is destined to become a must-see shrine for a certain group of geeks who are gaga over technology and equally obsessed with the latest in automotive progress. (Remind you of anyone you know?)

"I was excited. I really was," says Gilroy Chamber of Commerce President Susan Valenta, who got the news a couple of weeks ago. "Tesla has really been becoming a strong presence. To select Gilroy for the charging station really shows a lot of foresight on their part, because the outlets get a tremendous amount of traffic off the freeway."

OK, it's not going to mean many more cars coming off the freeway anytime soon. The station is designed to refill the juice only in Tesla's Model S sedan -- adding 150 miles of range to the battery every 30 minutes. And there are fewer than 150 of the cars on the road today, according to the company's latest security filings. But this is about looking ahead to a time when presumably electric cars will be commonplace.

And in that sense, the new Gilroy station is the sort of thing that deserves a christening or a ribbon-cutting, or something, though nothing has been planned yet, Valenta says. (She also says she just might work on that.) So I took matters into my own hands Tuesday and drove down to the charging station in my all-gas Corolla.

I congratulated the work crew, who gave me funny looks. I stood and stared at the coming station, which is positioned between the Gilroy Inn and a row of shops including The Luggage Factory, American Apparel, Cole Haan and others. And I asked passers-by if they'd like to say a few words about this leap into the electric-car future.

"All I heard is that it is solar and it's Tesla," said Michael Taubman, the manager of a nearby store he preferred not to name while sharing personal views. "And I think that's great to have emerging technology here in Gilroy."

Any thoughts, I asked, about why Tesla picked Gilroy?

"I have no idea," he said. "From a demographic point of view, it wouldn't be the first place I would have thought of."

Never mind that Taubman is now off the chamber's speakers list for the official ribbon-cutting, it turns out Tesla has its own way of figuring out where to put these stations, which are also open or opening at Harris Ranch along I-5, Tejon Ranch farther south, Barstow, Folsom and Los Angeles. Tesla doesn't put its stations in places where its customers are from, or even where they're going. It figures out how they're likely getting from one place to the other and sticks the stations along the way, about 100 miles apart, says Tesla spokeswoman Shanna Hendriks.

"One of the things we want to make sure with every location," she added, "is that there is something for Model S drivers, or Model S owners, to do while they're charging."

Which is no doubt why the Gilroy station will be a few thousand steps from an In-and-Out burger. Nothing like scarfing down a double-double and an order of animal fries while your S slurps down a few kilowatts. It's how a charging station becomes a tourist destination.

In fact, the tourists already were showing up Tuesday. Yakoob Dal and daughters Seema and Sara had come all the way from Toronto to see the whiz-bang charging station. OK, they had come all the way from Toronto to see Los Angeles and were now on their way to San Jose. "They heard about the outlet," Yakoob Dal, 64, said, "and they said, 'Let's check it out, Dad.'"

But the Dals were impressed when I told them about the station. And other tourists will be, too.
Really. You'll see.


Tesla to debut "supercharger" in San Marcos Premium Outlets

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