Tesla might be removing one of its most popular selling points for the upcoming Model 3, as chief executive Elon Musk has suggested that buyers of the new electric car would not get access to Tesla's free battery chargers.

Speaking at the company's annual shareholder's conference in California on Tuesday (31 May 2016), Musk explained how Tesla would offer use of its Supercharger stations to Model 3 drivers.

The car, expected to cost from £30,000 ($43,350) when released in 2017, has had more than 400,000 pre-orders since unveiled in March this year – far exceeding Tesla's estimates. Such an influx in Tesla owners will likely put a strain on the Superchargers, which are currently free and can be used with almost no queueing.

Musk suggested a "package" could be sold to Model 3 owners to allow Supercharger access, which can refill the battery of the larger Model S and Model X cars by 80% in around 40 minutes.

Without this package, using the Superchargers to fill up on long journeys would not be free for Model 3 owners for life, as it is with the more expensive Model S and X cars, which cost between two and four times as much.

Answering a Model S owner's question about Model 3 charging, Musk said: "Obviously, [free use of Superchargers] fundamentally has a cost... The obvious thing to go is decouple that from the cost of the Model 3. So it will still be very cheap, and far cheaper than gasoline, to drive long-distance with the Model 3, but it will not be free long distance for life unless you purchase that package. I wish we could, but in order to achieve the economics, it has to be something like that."

Musk's comments fall in line with a direction Tesla took after launching the Model 3, when its Supercharging credential was changed from "standard" to "capable".

Tesla will expect many Model 3 buyers to have chargers installed in their garages and/or offices, reducing the demand on Superchargers, and by late 2017 – or 2018, when the Model 3 is likely to arrive in the UK – fast public chargers will be more widely available than they are today.

Or, having said all that, could Musk be simply setting himself up to announce that, yes, Model 3 Supercharging would actually be free? I really wouldn't put it past him.