Tesla Motors opens first Midwest electric car ‘supercharger’ in Normal

Tesla Motors opens first Midwest electric car ‘supercharger’ in Normal

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who owns a Tesla Model S, touts the California company's new Normal, Ill. Supercharging station at a press conference in front of the Museum of Science & Industry. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)

Outside the Museum of Science & Industry Wednesday, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton showed off the roomy “frunk” of his luxury sedan, which had just travelled to Normal, Ill., and back, propelled by electrons pulled from the grid at Tesla Motors’ first “supercharging” station in the Midwest.

The new station in Normal is the company’s ninth nationally, and its first that’s not in California or on the East Coast. Their budding network of “superchargers” is meant to enable coast-to-coast travel by electric vehicle within just a few years. Tesla has plans to open another station in Rockford, Ill. later this year.

Tesla’s Model S can travel up to 265 miles fully charged, which from the Normal station would reach Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee or St. Louis with miles to spare. The “supercharging stations” can fully charge Teslas in about 30 minutes. Once at its destination, the car can be charged from an electrical outlet overnight.

Tesla's plan to blanket the country with supercharging stations by 2015. So far only nine have been installed. (Tesla Motors)

Cullerton said he and his wife agreed to buy a Tesla Model S before the car was available on U.S. roads. Although he touted the cheap cost of travel — it costs the equivalent of three cents per gallon to drive, Cullerton said — the state senator noted that electric vehicles circumvent the gasoline taxes used to build and maintain roads.

“We have to figure out how to pay for our roads,” Cullerton said, “but we also want to encourage people to buy electric vehicles.”

Illinois currently offers a $4,000 rebate to complement the $7,500 tax credit that the federal government awards electric vehicle owners. That puts the effective price of a new Model S at about $48,000.

Tesla Model S. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)
California-based Tesla posted its first-ever quarterly profit in May, the same month the Model S surpassed the leading electric car, Nissan’s Leaf, in monthly sales (the Leaf, priced around $32,000, still leads overall). Despite rave reviews, the Model S has not been widely adopted. Electric vehicle ownership is on the rise, but still makes up less than 1 percent of industry sales.

But Tesla’s Dustin Krause said long-distance travel could help grow that share.

“For electric cars for so long the problem has been that you can’t go far enough,” he said. “Supercharging solves that.”

Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at @Cementley.