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Unwelcome by Design in Tesla Territory

Thu, 12/09/2021 - 14:34


It was predictable that just as the first Tesla electric car-charging station appeared in East Hampton Village people would grumble, and grumble they did, with good reason.

The new units popped up almost overnight in a village-owned parking lot on Osborne Lane. On one side is the Long Island Rail Road tracks, on the other a lovely old building used for village offices. For sure, the chargers appear incongruous, to put it mildly, but there is much more to the complaints than that.

Among the objections is that the village just gave a branding monopoly to a single vehicle manufacturer on a prime piece of real estate — right as the electric vehicle market is set to explode. Plenty of car companies are after a piece of Tesla’s market share, and locking in highly visible locations for their proprietary chargers is a big part of its defensive strategy. It’s all the better for Tesla if it can get local officials to provide sites at no or low cost — this also provides an end run around little things like the village’s tough rules on commercial signs, outdoor illumination, and site coverage. Which is to say that the company might not be able to get away with nearly as much if it were a paying tenant elsewhere — if it were even allowed.

In a similar arrangement in Montauk, Tesla partnered with Electrify America to take over a long section of a town parking lot off Main Street. One of the peculiarities regarding the chargers there and expected in the village is the myth that the non-Tesla units can fit any car. This is simply not true. The majority of electric vehicle drivers in North America would have to carry an adapter, priced at $100 or more to use the sites. For example, the two types of so-called universal plugs at the Tesla-Electrify America station in the town-owned parking lot in Montauk are not compatible with a long list of E.V.s. These include the ubiquitous Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul, Fiat 500e, and vehicles made by Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Chrysler. Credulous local officials may have taken Tesla and Electrify America at their word that all would be able to use the chargers, but needed to ask a lot more questions than they did.

People concerned rightly about reducing climate changing emissions and alternative energy were vociferously all for the Montauk installation when it was proposed and may yet come to the defense of the one in the village’s site. However, they have to admit that handing public property over to a single, category-leading private company is wrong, no matter how green the result. This is particularly acute when the majority of electric vehicles on the road today are unwelcome by design. It may be smart business for Tesla, but it is bad policy for the rest of us.

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