SAN FRANCISCO — As more than half a million customers in this area lost power Wednesday amid a series of planned outages aimed at thwarting wildfires, Tesla owners were confronted with another troubling possibility: their cars running out of juice.
The electric automaker issued a preemptive over-the-air advisory overnight to many vehicle owners, telling them to charge up ahead of the planned outages, which utility Pacific Gas & Electric began rolling out Wednesday to try to lessen the risk of wildfires.
“A utility company in your area announced they may turn off power in some areas of Northern California beginning October 9 as part of public safety power shut-offs, which may affect power to charging options,” the message read, according to social media posts. “We recommend charging your Tesla to 100% today to ensure your drive remains uninterrupted.”
Tesla went on to advise that the on- or offline status of its “Supercharger” stations, where owners can secure a faster battery refill, would be displayed on in-car maps.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request seeking additional information on how many customers received the warnings, how its Supercharger network was expected to be affected, and whether the company is advising customers not to charge once the outages are in effect. Tesla owners reported their go-to stations appeared busier than usual, however.
Chad Dunbar, a resident of Petaluma, Calif., said he bought gasoline-powered generators as a backup to charge his Tesla Model 3, “if it’s an emergency,” as well as his home. First, though, he set his car up to fully charge Tuesday night, as opposed to his usual choice of charging it to 80 percent. It’s his only vehicle.
He acknowledged an extended outage might pose a problem. Then electric vehicles “might get interesting — but that’s a major disaster at that point,” he added.
“At least in the worst-case scenario I have a gas-based generator for my house and for possible charging of my car,” said Dunbar, who works in IT in local government. So far, the power has stayed on.
The advisory is significant for customers in the Bay Area, where Tesla’s premium electric cars are a common sight. California is the country’s largest electric vehicle market, according to EVAdoption.com, which tracks the figures on electric market share, and the sales are largely driven by Tesla, which made up more than half of the country’s overall electric vehicle sales. The International Council on Clean Transportation reported this year that the San Jose area — in the heart of Silicon Valley — had the country’s highest share of electric vehicles by population, followed by San Francisco, along with San Diego and Los Angeles.
Late Wednesday, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk tweeted that Supercharger stations in the affected areas would be outfitted with Tesla Powerpacks, or battery storage systems for larger commercial applications. That will effectively give them a power reserve for future outages.
PG&E said the outages would affect nearly 1 million customers in California across more than half of the state’s 58 counties, the most extensive planned blackout ever for the state.
But it also wasn’t all rosy for traditional internal combustion vehicles. Gas pumps could also be affected, both by a rush to secure fuel amid the outages and the fact that many gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
Dunbar said his parents waited roughly 40 minutes for gas ahead of the outages. Up until needing a generator, his Tesla charging in his garage is more convenient.
Zlatko Unger of Redwood City, Calif., said he received the alert on his Tesla Model 3 as he climbed in his car to grab lunch for his family Wednesday. The 35-year-old tech worker immediately looked up the availability of chargers nearby, noticing the one he frequented appeared “a little busier than usual.” Unger, who still had power Wednesday, said he would plan to arrive early and charge up Thursday.
For Unger, the alert was helpful in more than one way. It reminded him what his family would do in a catastrophe: use his Kia Niro plug-in hybrid, which can turn to gasoline once the battery depletes.
“If everything went haywire, we would opt to use the hybrid instead — just because of the practicality,” he said.