You bought that spiffy new all-electric Tesla Model S, so why not build the charging stations to go along with it?
This is what Chinese businessman Yi Zong decided to do after he purchased his Tesla earlier this year. He realized that charging his vehicle would be a problem in China because, well, there are few stations in that country. Zong installed recharging facilities on his own dime, or yuan as the case may be, in 16 cities between Beijing and his home in Guangzhou — a 3,573-mile corridor.
Zong, one of the first Chinese owners of the Model S, calls his project the country’s “first electric-charging road,” according to a report at Caixin Online, a Beijing-based media group.
Basically, Zong needed a way to get his new Tesla home from the dealership; his idea evolved to a “demonstration of the power of Internet-based organizing and a grassroots alternative to government-backed charging-facility projects,” the Caixin report says.
His first idea was to bring a charger with him and ask to use power outlets at the hotels he stayed at along the way. But he didn’t just want to drive back home once, he wanted to set up a route that could be used by future drivers of electric cars.
Zong contacted Wu Bixuan, the Tesla executive in charge of China operations, and told her that he wanted to buy 20 recharging facilities to donate along the road to Guangzhou. He also posted notices on the networking site Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, and through a popular messaging app WeChat, seeking property owners along the route with a spare parking space near a heavy-duty electrical outlet.
He would then donate and install the chargers in the space and mark it on an online map of the “China Electric Road.” The owners of the parking spaces could decide whether to charge a fee or offer the service for free. “If we install at hotels, we can handle everything on our own and avoid dealing with property management, power companies and the government,” Zong said in the Caixin interview. “Seven hours of charging costs the property owners about 30 yuan [about $5] in electricity. But if the driver has a meal or spends the night at the hotel, this can become a profit model.”
He received more than 500 responses to the social-media campaign, so he added more conditions: four-star hotel, free parking and locations that were easy to find. He then chose spots in 16 cities.
Zong admits the network has some problems. For example, the recharging facilities can handle Tesla cars and electric cars from other companies, but their wide spacing — from 62 miles to 248 miles apart — is too much for most electric cars. Tesla’s Model S can travel 310 miles per charge.
In addition, Zong installed slow chargers, not the newer rapid-charging stations that Tesla and the government are focusing on. A full charge for a Model S at one of Zong’s stations takes at least eight hours, requiring overnight stays at every stop.
When asked what his network cost, Zong gave an indirect answer to Caixin, saying it was twice what he paid for his electric car. A new Tesla Model S costs at least 730,000 yuan ($118,000).
Zong started his trip from Beijing to Guangzhou on May 25, attracting crowds of interested onlookers along the way. “I think I’m the best sales manager Tesla has,” he said. “There was just so much interest along the way. I must have sold at least 150 cars.”
Now there’s a lesson about individual entrepreneurship for other countries with wide open spaces, EV range worry and a need for charging stations.