Bad Ideas: Tesla Bars Ride Sharing Drivers From Using Its Superchargers
from the pray-we-don't-alter-it-any-further dept
Tesla remains a fascinating company. Elon Musk famously likes to do things his own way, and doesn’t much care for convention. And that’s often a great recipe for innovation. At times, it leads to really awesome things like giving away all the company’s patents for anyone to use without licensing. But, sometimes it does some weird things that should make people think twice about buying into the Telsa vision — even when at first pass it may make sense. For example, a few months ago, we were concerned about the “surprise” remote range extension that Tesla gave to drivers in Florida to help them evacuate before Hurricane Irma hit. On its face, this obviously seems like a good thing. Helping people evacuate a hurricane by extending their mileage is unquestionably good.
But it did raise some concerns — about a company remotely, and without notification, updating the car you purchased from afar. Because if it can be used for “good” reasons (like giving you extra range to escape a hurricane) it might also be used at other times for bad reasons. What if, for example, Elon Musk decides he doesn’t like you. Last year, Musk famously banned famed venture capitalist Stewart Alsop from buying one of Tesla’s cars after Alsop publicly complained about a poorly staged event by Tesla. Could Musk “brick” someone’s car for displeasing him? The backlash to that would be massive, which probably keeps such a move out of the realm of likelihood, but there are still problems with the company changing your car after purchase.
Similarly, last year there were reports that Tesla was banning people from using its self-driving car technology as part of any ride-sharing project. This seemed like an anti-competitive move, as Tesla has talked about setting up its own sort of Uber using self-driving cars that people would buy (basically, you’d “rent out” your car while you weren’t using it). We thought that was a neat idea, but were troubled by the idea of contractually blocking Tesla owners from working with other vendors on such a project.
And now there’s another troubling move: Tesla is telling “commercial” drivers of its vehicles (mainly ride-sharing drivers) that they can’t use the company’s Supercharger network to charge their cars. There are perfectly legitimate, non-nefarious reasons for this. Mainly: there are apparently problems with Superchargers being overcrowded these days, and you could see why the company doesn’t want them clogged up with ride sharing drivers, effectively subsidizing their driving jobs. At the very least, the company has made it clear the policy only applies to new Tesla buyers, so it’s not a bait-and-switch situation.
But, still, there’s something troubling about the idea that the company can ban you from using its Superchargers based solely on the type of driving you’re doing. Again, that leads to questions about what other situations may arise where Tesla bans people from using its chargers in one form or another. I’m sure that many won’t think this is a big deal — and will point out that the company needed to do something to avoid congestion. But we should be concerned about how this is subtly changing our relationship to the products we (thought we) own, and the control that companies have over our usage, post-purchase.
I don’t think Tesla is doing anything nefarious here, and there are plenty of seemingly good reasons for why the company chose this path. But we should be quite careful and thoughtful about how we move into a world where the company that sells you something retains an astounding amount of control over how and even if you are allowed use it, based on how much it likes or dislikes you or your profession. Because sooner or later, these issues are going to get bigger and more problematic — and it might help if we really thought about them now, before things get messy.