Tesla already won the war

Tesla already won the war

Tesla’s bid to become the future of electric vehicle charging is gaining traction. Texas, where Tesla is headquartered, announced on Tuesday that all new EV chargers built using federal funding in the state will have to include Tesla’s “North American Charging Standard” (NACS) port, as first reported by Reuters, and confirmed to Gizmodo by the Texas Department of Transportation. The state-level decision follows a string of automakers announcing their intent to include Tesla ports on forthcoming vehicle models.

At the end of May, Ford announced that its EVs will pivot to Tesla’s NACS port beginning in 2025. In the interim, the company said it will provide Ford EV drivers with a Tesla-developed adapter. Earlier this month, General Motors followed suit, saying it plans to integrate NACS into its new electric cars beginning in 2025 and offer adapters beginning in 2024. In an email to Gizmodo, a GM spokesperson confirmed that the company’s vehicles built in 2025 and later will only include NACS ports. On Tuesday, Rivian hopped on board the bandwagon with a very similar timeline: NACS by 2025, adapters beginning as soon as spring of next year. Rivian would not clarify if it plans to remove CCS ports from its cars starting in 2025.

Ultimately, these decisions influenced Texas policy, Adam Hammons, a spokesperson from the state’s DOT, told Gizmodo in an email. “The decision by Ford, GM, and now Rivian to adopt NACS changed requirements for Phase 1” of Texas’s highway electrification program. Other states and more companies are likely to announce similar policies—with some like Hyundai already openly considering jumping ship to NACS. A range of charger manufacturers have also said they will start including NACS connectors on their public stations. Taken altogether, it’s a sea change for EV charging.

Contrary to Tesla’s naming convention for its non-standard ports and plugs, the actual standard for most EV makes sold in the U.S. is the Combined Charging System (CCS). It is used by GM, Ford, Honda, KIA, Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, and VW. Currently, just Tesla uses the NACS setup. Nissan and Mitsubishi have historically used a type of charging port/plug called the CHAdeMO.

Yet despite most automakers defaulting to CCS, most fast-chargers in the U.S. are NACS Tesla chargers, Corey Cantor an EV analyst at Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance research organization told Gizmodo in a phone call. About 17,000 Tesla chargers nationwide charge at above 100-kilowatt rate, he said. In comparison, there are about 7,500 non-Tesla chargers around the country that meet or exceed that same fast-charging benchmark. Outside of the U.S. other parts of the world use different charging standards. In Europe, for instance, the standard is CCS2—which even Tesla employs abroad.

Because of Tesla’s relative popularity in the U.S. EV market, cars that use NACS also outnumber CCS vehicles. Moreover, Tesla is expanding its charging network much more rapidly than other companies. It installed four times as many ultra-fast chargers in 2022 than any other operator, Cantor noted.

In addition to being more numerous, Tesla’s public chargers have also proved more reliable than those installed and operated by competitors like EVgo and Electrify America, he added. “The Tesla experience has been far superior, with better up-time,” Cantor said. An independent J.D. Power analysis from February supports this, with Tesla owners reporting higher satisfaction with the charging experience than other EV drivers.

In Texas, new chargers installed under federally-funded EV infrastructure expansion efforts will include both a NACS and a CCS plug, Hammans said. Ultimately, if the primary goal is to boost EV adoption, companies and states shifting to Tesla’s charging tech will likely be a good thing, Cantor said.

But for the industry writ large, there are many unanswered questions. Though Tesla floated the idea of opening up its charging network and tech for years, it was only in November 2022 that the company actually announced plans to do so. And it’s not yet a foregone conclusion that NACS will become the new norm. “We’ve still got a few more dominoes to fall before you say that this [CCS] standard is completely dead,” Cantor told us.

Any transition will take years, regardless, and it remains to be seen how non-Tesla vehicles will perform with NACS charging—will it be seamless, wonders Cantor, or will issues arise as automakers try to incorporate the once-proprietary technology into their vehicles? It’s easy to provide reliable charging for one vehicle make and three models, but serving a broader array of cars and trucks inevitably brings complications. Will Tesla chargers be able to adapt to higher charging speeds in the future, as the overall technological landscape improves? Tesla has said that 12,000 of its 17,500 existing chargers will be made open to Ford and GM vehicles, but will all future Tesla chargers be open? “They are keeping some [chargers] to themselves, you’d imagine those in the best spots,” Ryan Fisher, another EV analyst at BloombergNEF, wrote to Gizmodo over email. “The deal is better for Tesla than anyone else,” he added—pointing out that Ford and GM were essentially forced to accept Tesla’s tech for lack of a better option.

Meanwhile, Tesla is set to make a lot of money off the new charger trend. GM and Rivian both told Gizmodo via email that they aren’t paying Tesla directly to use the NACS technology—outside of the charging fees that individual users will pay per charge—but still, that’s a lot of new revenue, and it’s unclear if the lack of licensing fee trend will hold. Gizmodo would reach out to Tesla with these inquiries, but the Elon Musk-owned company doesn’t have a press office.

Then, of course, “there’s the monopoly question,” Cantor pointed out. Though Tesla’s chargers have proven the best available in the U.S. in recent years, that doesn’t mean it’s in the EV driver’s best interest for them to be the only ones available.

Plus, the adoption of NACS complicates recent U.S. policy. The final and adopted version of the Biden Administration’s National EV Infrastructure (NEVI) program mandates that every federally-supported fast charger includes a CCS plug, or otherwise be accessible to CCS EVs. This will, presumably, continue to be true in the near future. Tesla has previously indicated it would retrofit existing chargers or install new ones to meet this requirement. And again, Texas plans to offer dual-connector chargers. Chargers with two different plug types will inevitably be more expensive. It’s possible that, by opting to allocate more money for each charger, Texas will be limiting the total number of new chargers it installs. Hammons said TX DOT does not currently have an estimate on how much money the inclusion of NACS connectors on new chargers will cost Texas.

Yet all potential hiccups aside, Cantor remains optimistic. “I think we’re in the middle of the story, not at the end of it,” he said. His forecast is that EV drivers are in for “short-term pain for long-term gain.” Perhaps, if you’ve been considering the switch to a non-Tesla EV, it might be worth holding off until there’s more clarity on how the charger issue will shake out, the analyst recommended. But down the line, all EV drivers can probably look forward to an improved charging experience.

Right now, EVs make up less than 2% of passenger cars on U.S. roads, yet projections suggest the number of electric vehicles in the fleet could rise tenfold by 2030. The question of standardized EV chargers has been unresolved for years. If Tesla’s NASC ends up being the answer, Cantor said, better to get there now than in another decade.

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