Tesla to discontinue free EV charging for new cars

But Teslas purchased before Jan. 1 will continue to get free electric charging

Tesla Motors today announced it will discontinue its popular free electric vehicle charging program for vehicles purchased after Jan. 1, 2017.

The company said new vehicle owners next year will receive an initial 400 kilowatt hours worth of free charging -- enough to travel about 1,000 miles -- and then will be charged a "small" fee for each charge after that.

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A Tesla Supercharging station.

"We will release the details of the program later this year, and while prices may fluctuate over time and vary regionally based on the cost of electricity, our Supercharger Network will never be a profit center," the company said in a blog post.

[Related: 2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost review]

The new fees will not apply to current owners or any new Teslas ordered before Jan. 1, 2017, as long as delivery is taken before April 1.

The change in EV charging policy comes as Tesla prepares to ship its least expensive car -- the Model 3, which will have a base price of $35,000. Tesla sees the Model 3 as a mass market vehicle, as opposed to its Model S sedan, which starts at $70,000. The company hopes to begin shipping large volumes of the Model 3 in the second half of 2017.

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The Tesla Model 3 will have a base price of $35,000, which the company hopes will appeal to the masses.

Hundreds of thousands of consumers have plopped down $1,000 to reserve a Model 3. The mass of pre-orders means Tesla could see billions of dollars in new sales when the sedan arrives.

"As we approach the launch of Model 3, this [EV charging] update will enable us to greatly expand our Supercharger Network, providing customers with the best possible user experience and bringing sustainable transport to even more people."

Tesla now boasts a network of 734 EV charging stations with a total of more than 4,600 Superchargers. Superchargers can deliver 120kW charge, which equates to about 170 miles of range in as little as 30 minutes.

Last year, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk announced an over-the-air software upgrade to the entire Model S fleet that not only tracks charging station locations but alerts drivers when they're out of range of those stations. Tesla claims that a 30-minute charge is typically enough to reach a neighboring Supercharger Station anywhere in the U.S.

Tesla sees its Supercharging stations as a way to extend long-journeys and not as a primary source of power for daily EV use.

"Just as you would charge your cell phone, we believe the best way to charge your car is either at home or at work, during the hours you're not using it," Tesla stated.

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