Is Tesla’s Supercharger Team Scrapped or Just Evolving?

Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

×

Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.

Updated:

At the end of April, Elon Musk fired the entire Tesla Supercharger team. That’s 500 folks all in. Now he’s hiring some back. What’s going on?

Tesla supercharger up close view

It’s not clear whether Musk really thought through his decision to fire the entire Supercharger team. Nor that his original intention was to then hire back some of that team in new roles.

In fact, reports are surfacing suggesting that Musk reactively fired team lead Rebecca Tinucci and her entire team after a meeting between the two went sideways. Former employees told Reuters that Musk didn’t respond well to Tinucci’s report on the Supercharger network and plans for expansion, and that Tinucci refused to lay off additional workers, having already laid off 15-20% of her team two weeks earlier.

In response, Musk fired Tinucci and her entire 500-person team.

Whatever happened, it does seem that the initial rapid growth phase is over. With Rebecca Tinucci out, a new leader can step in, and Musk will likely have even greater sway over the department.

The need for a new team

Honestly, I’m not surprised Musk fired the entire Supercharger team. That’s pretty much his petulant MO. He did the same thing with Twitter, and he’s done the same thing with Tesla across a bunch of departments. “Cut first, hire back later, maybe” seems to be his motto.

However it went down this time, Musk’s approach might actually turn out to be a good move, and not just pure impulse. After all, the Supercharger team was huge – 500 people involved in sales, research and development, marketing, and operations. Given that most of the R&D and deployment is done and sales are going swimmingly, I can see why Musk would view the team as bloated. 

Who needs sales people and R&D when your chargers are the best and barely anybody with an EV can avoid using them? 

Some industry commentators see Musk’s rapid fire firing as unfathomable, given:

  1. The sheer scale of Supercharger network infrastructure 
  2. Tesla’s success in getting pretty much every North American automaker to adopt its network standards – including Ford, GM, Honda, Kia, Polestar, and Stellantis, among others.

I disagree. Both of these things seem like great reasons for Tesla to take its foot off the gas, as it were. After all, Tesla spent last year negotiating deals with its rival EV makers for them to manufacture vehicles compatible with Tesla’s charging network. With most of the prime sites for EV charging already set up, Musk stands to make money hand over fist as these EVs come online.

What's the Supercharger network worth?

Back in 2021, Goldman Sachs tried to estimate how much Tesla made from its Supercharger network and how much it stood to make in the future. The estimate for 2021 was around $479 million. By 2030, chances are that annual figure will rise to at least $12 billion and potentially $25 billion.

Naturally, I would much prefer Musk behave in a way that respects the dignity and livelihoods of his employees. I’m also not surprised he’s laying off huge numbers of employees as staff continue their efforts to unionize in Buffalo, NY.

Tesla Supercharger in Jackson, WY

The success of the Supercharger team

The Supercharger team has done an incredible job over the last 15 years. Thanks in large part to Rebecca Tinucci, who led the team for almost two years and worked at Tesla for more than six.

To the Charging team: Do not let anyone take away the pride you had just days ago for what we built together. We achieved every result that was asked of us, even the seemingly impossible ones, and with that changed the future of the industry.

Rebecca Tinucci, Ex-Tesla Charging Executive and Entrepreneur, on LinkedIn

Through their hard work, Tesla has brought fast charging to almost everybody in America. The team figured out the tech and the infrastructure network needed to deploy large-scale Supercharger stations quickly and with minimal expense.

It achieved this largely by using pre-fabricated charging modules taken directly from the Tesla factory to charging stations. Local contractors then do the digging and paving.

The result is a much lower average cost per kW of charging capacity with Tesla than with rivals.

Supercharger stations are a huge investment

It can cost around $1 million to create a single Supercharger station and 4-5 years for a company to break even at that site.

For Tesla, the cost of setting up new stations is lower, because it gets charging equipment at cost. And the cost to add chargers to current hubs is even lower, making it a smart financial move, at least in the short-term, to focus on existing charging locations rather than adding new ones.

For rivals, Tesla pulling back on plans to expand its Supercharger network could help shorten the payback period through increased custom and cheaper land.

See: Players to Watch After Musk Fires Supercharger Team

Where Tesla goes from here

Tesla Superchargers have a strong reputation for being reliable and fast. However, it’s not entirely clear that using Tesla tech to charge EVs from Ford, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, and others will be seamless. There may be significant software integration issues that could benefit from having a dedicated R&D team with specific skills and knowledge of Tesla Supercharger architecture.

So, whether his move to fire Tinucci and her staff was right in the moment, it may give Musk a chance to form a more streamlined team with a narrower focus. Namely, to ensure that its chargers are ready for use by all EVs in the future.

Free eBook: Simple Steps to a Greener Home

Concerned about climate change? Learn actionable tips for making each room in your home greener.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Leave a Reply

If you have a question about the subject matter of this post, ask it in the comments below. To better serve our readers, we have started answering some reader questions in dedicated blog posts.

Back to top