The TESLA logo is seen on a charging station on May 26, 2023 in Merklingen, Germany.
Harry Langer / | Defodi Photos | Getty Images
Within weeks, Ford Motor, general motors And Tesla It seems to have turned the tide on electric vehicle charging infrastructure in North America.
Longtime Tesla owners enjoy reliable charging away from home at the company’s supercharging stations, North America’s largest charging network by far. But the charging industry in general is fragmented, and Tesla owners haven’t had it so easy.
All of that will change soon.
Last month, Ford announced that it had struck a deal with Tesla that would allow Ford EVs to use Tesla charging stations with an adapter — and starting in 2025, Tesla will make its charging technology standard on its EVs. It was a surprising partnership between the rivals, and on Thursday, General Motors said it had struck a nearly identical deal with Tesla.
So why would Ford and General Motors join forces with Tesla, a company long seen by investors as a threat to automakers?
And what does that mean for electric cars?
Tesla superchargers use a proprietary component design, called the North American Charging Standard, or NACS, that doesn’t work with non-Tesla electric vehicles. Most electric vehicles and other charging stations in the United States use the public domain Combined Charging System (CCS) plug standard.
Currently, Tesla EVs can use CCS chargers with an adapter, but only Teslas can use NACS chargers.
This meant that while Tesla owners had access to the company’s plentiful and reliable fast-charging stations, drivers of non-Tesla electric vehicles using CCS faced an often unreliable mix of networking and equipment.
The CCS’s shortcomings have been a growing concern for Detroit automakers as they ramp up electric vehicle production in hopes of selling their electrified models to the masses.
In a study last year, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, examined 675 CCS fast chargers in the San Francisco Bay Area and found that about a quarter of them were not working. An August 2022 study by JD Power found similar results for CCS chargers in other parts of the country. Notably, it was also found that Tesla’s charging network is more reliable.
Tesla originally built the Supercharger Network to overcome potential buyers’ concerns about charging on road trips. The extent and reliability of its fast-charging network was a key component of the early sales pitch to customers worried about going electrified—and it has been a key component to the company’s success in the United States ever since.
By contrast, the less-than-stellar accuracy and reliability of CCS has been a challenge for Ford and General Motors (and other automakers) as they aim to increase sales of their electric vehicles.
Potential buyers of a Ford or GM EV might like what they experience on a test drive, but without a reliable charging network, both were at a significant disadvantage for Tesla. These new deals should go a long way toward leveling the shipping business.
Another reason to prefer Tesla’s NACS standard over CCS: Tesla plugs are smaller and lighter than CCS quick charge plugs, which can be cumbersome for older or disabled drivers to use.
With both Ford and General Motors keen to win customers new to electric vehicles, improving accessibility is a top priority.
For automakers like Ford and GM that are betting billions on a major shift to EVs, reliability issues with CCS chargers have been seen as a potential barrier to wider adoption. GM said in 2021 it plans to spend $750 million to improve electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the United States and Canada.
But then Tesla opened up the NACS standard last November, publishing technical specifications and inviting charging network operators and other automakers to use the component design.
For Ford and General Motors, this change offered a short cut—and the potential for significant savings.
“We think we can save up to $400 million in the original three-quarters of the billion dollars we set aside for this, because we’ve been able to do it faster and more effectively,” Barra said in an interview Thursday with CNBC. Fast Money” after the Tesla deal was announced.
For Ford CEO Jim Farley, these deals also signal what he sees as a new era of collaboration between automakers that goes beyond individual components.
“we [worked with other automakers] “Now, it’s going to be more on the technology side,” Farley said at the Bernstein Conference on May 31. “I think that’s one of the most interesting new dynamics.”
What about Tesla?
So what does Tesla get out of the deal to allow its competitors to use its supercharging network?
The EV Commander will certainly enjoy the extra revenue he receives from Ford and GM EV owners every time they charge them at the Supercharger Station.
It will also enjoy tacit support for its technology from longstanding rivals, and will likely seek a share of the public subsidies for electric vehicle charging available under last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law.
But the agreements don’t mean Tesla will win a monopoly on public charging in the United States, even if all automakers eventually adopt the NACS standard.
The electric car giant’s decision to make the NACS standard public means that competing charging network operators are also free to add chargers with NACS sockets — and they almost certainly will.
In fact, major players are already responding in the wake of the Ford and General Motors deals. Swiss electrical equipment giant ABB, one of the leading manufacturers of commercial electric chargers, said on Friday that it will soon offer NACS plugs as an option on its products. FreeWire Technologies, a California-based startup that builds fast chargers, announced similar plans following Ford’s deal with Tesla last month.
Tesla’s underlying motivation – at least in public – may be simpler.
“Our mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” Rebecca Tinucci, senior director of charging infrastructure at Tesla, said in a statement announcing the GM deal Thursday. “Giving every electric vehicle owner access to ubiquitous charging and reliability is a cornerstone of that mission.”