We break down the impact of Ford and GM’s decision to adopt Tesla’s North American Charging Standard, as it sparks a transformative shift in the EV charging landscape
The North American Charging Standard (NACS) is gaining significant momentum and unprecedented support in North America, thanks to recent announcements by automotive giants Ford and General Motors.
The absence of a universally adopted standard for fast vehicle charging on this continent is blamed for creating a fragmented charging environment that hampers charging reliability and EV adoption. However, that situation seems to be changing. NACS is emerging as a frontrunner — due to the strategic choice made by both GM and Ford to incorporate it into all their future vehicles.
There is little doubt this will have major implications for the future of EV charging in North America. Here is Electric Autonomy‘s up-to-the-moment explainer of what EV drivers, businesses, network operators and fleet owners need to know about NACS.
What is the North American Charging Standard?
The North American Charging Standard (NACS) is formerly known as the Tesla Charging Connector. It is one of the three types of charging connectors used for fast-charging electric vehicles in North America.
The other two connector types are the SAE Combined Charging System (CCS) and CHArge de MOve (CHAdeMO).
CCS is the popular mode of charging for many European and North American automakers. CHAdeMO is the preferred charging standard among Japanese car manufacturers, though some, such as Nissan, have are switching to CCS.
The three different rapid charging standards are incompatible with one another. A vehicle equipped with only a CHAdeMO port cannot be charged using CCS or NACS plugs and vice versa.
These incompatibilities present a host of challenges. It complicates the charging experience for EV owners, increases the hardware burden on charging network operators who may elect to provide more than one type of charging to reach more customers, and also adds risk and confusion for automakers when deciding which standard to adopt.
Who started NACS?
The NACS plug was developed by Tesla in 2012. It is exclusively used on all Tesla vehicles in the North American market.
However, in November 2022, Tesla announced it would share its EV charging connector design and specification files. They are available for download for other car makers.
Tesla highlighted the advantages of the NACS plug compared to other connector types in a post. Tesla says the NACS plug is “the most proven in North America, offering AC charging and up to 1 MW DC charging in one slim package. It has no moving parts, is half the size, and is twice as powerful as CCS connectors.”
Tesla also claims NACS is the most common charging standard in North America. By the OEM’s calculation, NACS-equipped vehicles outnumber CCS vehicles by a ratio of two to one. Additionally, Tesla’s Supercharging network boasts 60 per cent more NACS charging posts than all the combined CCS-equipped networks.
By opening up the NACS to other automakers, Tesla says it aims to encourage both charging network operators and automakers to adopt the technology and ultimately work towards making it the new standard for EV charging in North America.
Are automakers now switching to NACS?
Other automakers are transitioning to NACS plugs. In November 2022, Aptera Motors was the first automaker to confirm their incorporation of the NACS standard into their future vehicles.
Aptera is a California-based EV manufacturer startup focused on building niche two-seat, three-wheeled passenger electric vehicles powered by solar power.
It’s only been as of late that bigger names in auto manufacturing have turned their interest toward the NACS plug. General Motors announced the switch in early June, less than two weeks after Ford announced its pivot.
GM and Ford have both said that they will start integrating the NACS inlets into their vehicles by 2025. Starting “early” next year, GM EV drivers may use an adapter to access Tesla’s network of 12,000-plus Superchargers. Ford EV driver will have adapters by next spring.
To ensure charging compatibility in the near-future, GM plans to supply adapters to GM vehicle owners with the NACS inlets. These adapters will allow owners to charge their vehicles at CCS fast charging stations as well.
“Our vision of the all-electric future means producing millions of world-class EVs across categories and price points, while creating an ecosystem that will accelerate mass EV adoption,” said GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra in a press release.
“This collaboration is…an important next step in quickly expanding access to fast chargers for our customers. Not only will it help make the transition to electric vehicles more seamless for our customers, but it could help move the industry toward a single North American charging standard.”
Where does this leave other standards in Canada?
The adoption of the NACS by GM and Ford raises questions about the viability of competing connectors in North America. It remains uncertain whether these connectors will continue to coexist or if Tesla, GM and Ford’s influence is strong enough to convince other EV manufacturers to commit to one connector type.
In Canada, the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) has a $500 million Charging and Hydrogen Refuelling Infrastructure (CHRI) initiative.
The fund focuses on “addressing the barriers to significant private sector investment in charging and refuelling infrastructure,” writes Ehren Cory, CEO of the CIB, in an email statement to Electric Autonomy.
“The CHRI initiative does not require a specific type of charging connector. We welcome collaboration between automakers and EV charging equipment manufacturers to help make charging easier.”
And in the U.S.?
Meanwhile, the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN) association, an American organization that promotes CCS as the global standard for charging all EVs, expressed in a recent statement that while it “stands behind” CCS, it also “supports the standardization” of Tesla NACS.
CharIN says it will create a task force with the goal of submitting NACS to the standardization process.
CharIN emphasized that for any technology to become a standard it must go through due process in a standards development organization such as ISO, IEC, IEEE, SAE and ANSI. This process is collaborative and allows all interested parties to contribute their ideas for the standard.
The comments are a change in tune from CharIN’s statement last week, where it expressed concern that the “global EV industry cannot thrive with several competing charging systems” in relation to Ford announcing its adoption of NACS.
In the U.S., CCS connectors have the backing of the Biden administration. Earlier this year, President Biden unveiled details of a five-year plan to invest US$5 billion in national EV charging network infrastructure through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program. After the GM announcement, White House spokesperson Robyn Patterson told Reuters that electric-vehicle charging stations using NACS plugs will be eligible for federal subsidies if they also include CCS plugs.
The Canadian government’s stance on the matter remains to be seen. The federal government continues to fund public chargers in order to build out Canada’s charging network. But it is unclear if NACS plugs will factor into funding eligibility.
Will charging station operators support NACS?
It is likely that charging network operators, in order to avoid the risk of losing a high portion of customers, will begin to offer NACS charging alongside CCS. This is especially so now that Ford and GM are on board with the NACS.
In Canada, Quebec-based charging operator, FLO, announced its intention to offer NACS connectors across its network of over 90,000 fast and Level 2 EV charging stations.
“FLO welcomes initiatives to standardize charging hardware in North America because we believe it will help eliminate confusion for EV drivers,” said Nathan Yang, FLO’s chief product officer in a press statement.
Yang added that FLO’s flexible business model enables it to embrace standards and technologies that align with its customers’ needs. FLO’s latest fast charger, the NEVI-compliant FLO UltraTM, already supports NACS cables upon request. FLO also plans to allow customers with existing stations to be able to add NACS on compatible stations.
ChargePoint, another major charging network operator with over 4,500 DC fast and Level 2 chargers in Canada, released a statement saying the company is actively doing R&D on NACS connectors solutions. It also said this work began prior to the Ford and GM announcements.
“ChargePoint will soon be offering a NACS connector option for all of these products, with cost-effective field upgrades available for chargers that are already in service,” says ChargePoint.
Furthermore, ABB E-mobility recently shared on Twitter that it plans to integrate the NACS into its EV chargers. But they must complete the necessary testing, design and validation processes first.
The company is, however, not ready to let go of other charging standards like CCS, MCS, and CHAdeMO. ABB E-mobility intends to continue utilizing these standards alongside NACS in its product offerings.
Several charging network operators in the U.S., including Blink Charging, Tritium, Wallbox, EVgo, Autel Energy, EVPassport and Freewire, are expressing support for NACS connectors and have announced plans to incorporate them into their future chargers.