KETTLEMAN CITY, Calif. — Almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, at a highway stop of fast-food joints and gas stations, Tesla Inc. is carrying out a social experiment in modern fueling.
The electric automaker has a wide charging plaza for Teslas here, near the crest of a hill. Forty of its trademark fast chargers are lined up under canopies of solar panels. Along with all that solar, what's unique about this is what Tesla owners do while their cars charge.
A white and red building emblazoned with a giant T has a locked glass door with a keypad. The only ones with the code are Tesla owners, who find it on the dashboard screens of their Teslas. Inside is, for the lack of a better term, a deluxe waiting lounge. The salon of sorts, in the dusty flat of the Central Valley, is Tesla's idea for how to help drivers mark time as their batteries fill.
Fast-charging stations — ones that provide a decent jolt in a half an hour — are found at gas stations, in Walmart parking lots, at suburban shopping malls and outside curio shops. The idea is to give drivers somewhere to go while they wait. But charging companies and automakers are in an escalating race to design chargers and cars that can charge faster, betting that matching a gas station's in-and-out feel will generate more EV sales.
Pilot projects in the United States and other countries are experimenting with embedding chargers in the road, so the electric vehicles never have to stop to charge at all.
For now, the Tesla lounge in Kettleman City appears to give Tesla owners a premium members-only experience as they wait, while selling them on Tesla itself.