Tesco Offers Free Charging for Electric Cars

Well, at least if you’re in the UK.

Over in the UK, one of the nation’s leading supermarket chains, Tesco, will be offering free EV charging stations at a number of its stores from the beginning of 2019. The initiative is in partnership with Volkswagen and the plan is to add some 2,500 bays into the parking lots of 600 stores before the end of 2020.

Now, that may be a bit of good vision on behalf of Tesco, who has already disrupted the petrol kiosk business in the UK with its cut-price petrol. You see, just about everyone in the UK drives to their local supermarket to get their week’s groceries. Offering cheap petrol or, in this case, free EV charging makes them a more attractive destination and thus they get more shoppers for their regular fare. Smart, right?

For now, customers will only be able to get a regular 7kW charge for free; if they want a quicker charge, they will still have to pay. Never mind, though; that should take some of the worry about range anxiety out of the frame, as customers will leave their car to get a free charge whilst they shop. How much of a charge they will get during their weekly shopping is, of course, dependent on the type of vehicle they drive, the amount of shopping they are getting and how long they have to wait to pay at the till.

It is a bit surprising that a car company is combining with a supermarket to give away free fuel, but there are no rules, laws or anything else stopping them. It is also a bit surprising that the initiative comes from VW as it is only currently marketing two EVs in the UK and in the past four years have ony managed to sell 1,350 of them, which is not a lot.

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This is not about the present but more, much more, about the future and VW has plans to offer an EV version of every model in their range by 2020. Of course, this means that there will have to be a big expansion of the number of EV recharging stations in the UK.

It is highly unlikely that Tesco will be giving away free electricity in the long term and it is really just trying to position itself for anticipated future markets. Certainly, Tesco has been watching what British Petroleum (BP) is doing. That particular venerable British company recently bought the UK’s largest EV charging network, Chargemaster, for a reported GBP130 million, which may prove to be a bargain in a few years’ time. Now BP has 6,500 charging stations across the country.

Rival Shell already has some 30,000 charging stations across Britain and the rest of Northern Europe, which includes about 1,000 in the UK. This may all sound very impressive but only about 1.5% of all the cars on the UK roads are electric or plug-in hybrids. You could say that it is a chicken or egg argument: no charging stations then no cars, but make the stations available then, well, anything could happen.

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