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Design Thinking: An Idea for Tesla’s Supercharging Wait Time Problem

An idea using a Design Thinking mindset, for Tesla’s Supercharging Wait Time Problem

Tesla has really transformed the automobile industry, cracking the existing fuel industry and automotive heavyweight nexus. And this is despite the first versions of electric motor driven vehicles dating back to 1828! That’s when Hungarian Ányos Jedlik invented a type of electric motor and a model car to power it with. The first known electric car, powered by galvanic cells, was built by Scottish inventor Robert Davidson in 1837.

The world, at least a few parts of it, have come a long way since. The total number of electric vehicles in the world, crossed 2 million units a few months ago!

Tesla is arguably the most popular electric car in the world today. And yet, even with the slightly more affordable Model 3, which is a few weeks behind on its delivery dates, these cars are expected to take about 30-40 minutes to charge completely (on 220-volt supercharger charging stations). And while that’s significantly down from the 9.5 odd hours the Model S takes to charge.

The Tesla Roadster: source

While running costs will probably come down significantly, average charging times are still quite high. At least compared to non-busy fueling times in the day at good ol’ petrol bunks. And given our need for everything to work in the shortest time possible. Same need that ready-to-eat packaged meals, fast charging mobile tech and granola bars aim at satisfying.

Tesla’s Supercharging stations: source

Surely designers and engineers at Tesla Motors and at other companies are wondering how reduce recharging times.

To give you a glimpse into the probable Charging Station Problems:

  • Not enough stations
  • Considerable Time-to-charge
  • Large wait area needed for vehicles coming in
    (a concern in countries with limited real estate)

Given the interesting constraints, and that electric cars and their ecosystems continue to be built the way they are, I realized that it needed a fresh look, perhaps with a design thinking mindset, in an attempt to solve it.

I believe one way to dramatically reduce charging times, is to differently design the cars’ battery packs and charging stations themselves. And also the model around which the battery packs fit into the bigger picture.

And here’s what I came up with. It might not be the ideal solution. It might even be ridiculous or too complex to implement. Or it might be a step in the right direction:

Design Changes to Battery Packs:

  • Split into a many smaller interchangeable sub-packs (4 or 8 units, etc.)
  • Since really high speeds won’t be necessary on city roads, a speed-limiter & the onboard computer will help in power management by using sub-packs in sequence, making for easy consumption/replacement
  • Replacement of entire sub-packs with charged ones at charging stations
  • Standard replacement / billing (eg.: ¼ or 1/8 & multiples, etc.)
  • People pay for # of packs they replace with charged packs
  • Anti-theft battery sub-pack locking mechanism built into the car
  • Customers have a seamless experience – interchangeable battery sub-packs – Tesla maintains battery quality, replaces old batteries

And Design Changes to Charging Stations:

  • Cars drive onto a ramp, or stop at a point
  • Underground unit exchanges specified packs
  • Limited real estate, as recharging is quick
  • Spent packs stacked vertically underground & charged for next cars

I could not find an appropriate email id on the Tesla Motors website to send this idea to. And so I tweeted it to Elon Musk.

Here’s a simple overview that I shared via my tweet. What are your thoughts on solving this problem, and on my idea? Can you think of a better one, or improve on this one?

Update [2018]: In Nov. 2017, Honda claimed that by the year 2022, their electric cars will charge in 15 minutes. It obviously sounds impressive. However, a good benchmark for them and other manufacturers, would be mobile phone charging times. Some of those are down to giving 15 hours of juice with 15-20 minutes. That’s the kind of ballpark human patience will expect in years to come. Are auto manufacturers (pun warning!) gearing up for that?


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