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Buying a new Tesla? Expect to start paying for Supercharging

Free Supercharger access will no longer be offered for vehicles ordered on or after January 1, 2017.

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If you've been planning on buying a new Tesla next year and enjoying free access to its Supercharger network, you're not going to like today's news.

For all Tesla models ordered after January 1, 2017, Supercharger access will no longer be a perpetually free standard feature. Instead, all new models will receive 400 kWh of free Supercharging credits annually, which amounts to about 1,000 miles of all-electric driving. After that, using the fast chargers will incur "a small fee...which will be charged incrementally," according to Tesla's blog post.

The automaker has not yet issued any details regarding pricing. It acknowledges that costs can and will change based on the cost of electricity and location of each Supercharger. According to the Silicon Valley automaker, the new fee will go towards investing in the Supercharger network. It's likely that this income will go toward expanding the network for the forthcoming Model 3, for which Tesla has hundreds of thousands of reservations.

This news might come as a shock to future Model 3 buyers, as well. Supercharging was never promised as a free feature of the low-cost model, but many reservation holders have likely taken for granted that the service would be part of the ownership experience. It's not clear yet what Tesla plans to do in the future, but given the substantial gulf in cost between Model 3 and Model S, it wouldn't come as a surprise if Model 3 owners face a completely different charging cost structure than owners of other Teslas. For now, the automaker isn't saying much.

Prospective Model S and Model X buyers still have some time to get in on the current always-free system. This fee change won't affect current owners or people who order a new Tesla before January 1, 2017 and take delivery before April 1, 2017. My bet? Expect to see Tesla's near-term delivery numbers spike as fence-sitters rush to take advantage, because if free Supercharger access is a must-have, then acting fast is a necessity.