Tycoons go to war over superhighway for electric cars

The Times, Ben Webster (Environment Editor), 6 June 2014.

A legal battle between two wealthy entrepreneurs is delaying plans for a “superhighway” that would allow owners of electric cars to drive most of the length of the country with just one short break to re-charge.

Elon Musk, the California-based billionaire who was the inspiration for Tony Stark in the Iron Man films, will tomorrow hand over the keys to the first five British buyers of his £70,000 Tesla S electric car, including the Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James.

However, Musk, who is also planning a manned base on Mars, is being prevented from installing rapid charging points at motorway service stations that would give his cars enough electricity in 20 minutes to drive more than 150 miles. Dale Vince, a former New Age traveller who owns Ecotricity, a wind energy company, has secured a high court injunction against Tesla Motors after it approached Welcome Break, the service station operator.

Mr Vince says that he has exclusive contracts with the major service station operators and an agreement with Tesla under which it was given confidential information. He argues that Tesla would be breaching that agreement by approaching the service stations directly.

Ecotricity has stopped work on two charging points for Tesla at South Mimms services on the M25 in Hertfordshire and Hopwood Park on the M42 south of Birmingham. It is unclear when plans will proceed for several more “supercharger” points. Mr Vince said that he had been working for three years on installing charging points at service stations for all types of electric car and had agreed to accommodate the Tesla car, which has a much bigger battery and requires a more powerful charger.

“They wanted the contracts we have with motorway operators to be broken so they could enter into their own contracts. We had offered them everything they needed,” Mr Vince said. He claimed Tesla sent Ecotricity an email last month that he described as a “declaration of war”.

“They said they were flying into Britain in a couple of days and they were going to blacken our name with the government and the motorway operators,” he said. “It was a very threatening and dark email.”

He said he was concerned that Tesla could use its influence at Westminster. Nick Clegg appointed Mr Musk last year to advise the government on how to persuade more drivers to switch to electric cars.

Mr Vince said that he had been willing to work with Tesla even though he considered it “wasteful” that the company was demanding exclusive parking spaces at re-charging points rather than agreeing to share spaces with other types of electric car.

Tesla said that it was unable to comment because of the injunction. A spokeswoman said: “We are committing to having superchargers for our customers.”

Edmund King, president of the AA, said he would like the companies to settle their differences. “We must overcome the ‘range anxiety’ which deters people from buying electric cars and we do not need squabbling over charging points,” he said. “When there is serious uptake of these cars we are going to need thousands more charging points.”


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