This integration would have made sense in the early stages of the industry. Why now? Is the Tesla NACS just another example of a corporation trying to gain market share, wonders LeadingAhead Energy’s Maxime Charron
Ford, GM, Rivian, and Volvo last week announced they’ll be moving forward with the Tesla connector (NACS for some) for their future generation models starting in 2025.
Many in the EV space have positively welcomed this news from EV experts to Tesla “fans” believing it would be best for the EV industry, hyping the large number of Superchargers deployed across North America and its ease of use.
But is it good for the industry?
Admittedly, I’m still wrapping my head around how a private company can claim a “Standard.” But I’ve taken a step back to reflect on how it could affect the industry on a short- and long-term basis.
Currently, Tesla has the advantage of managing its own charging infrastructure as well as its vehicles as a full-service, proprietary system.
Without a doubt, the “plug-and-charge” experience is far better than pulling out any app or tapping a credit card to get a charging session started. This is possible because Tesla owns and operates both systems.
Tesla designed the charging port on all Tesla models to be located on the rear corner of the driver side. This is great for Tesla drivers as this simple spec made it possible to design all Supercharger locations to be accessible for drivers to reverse into the stall and use the driver side charging unit.
Earlier versions of Tesla’s Superchargers (still in widespread use) use load sharing for paired chargers. In those cases, even a Supercharger site that is advertising a 150kW or 250kW charge could provide half as much power as advertised when the companion charger is in use.
In other words, this charging infrastructure architecture has pros and cons. It allows everyone to charge without creating line-ups (most of the time), but during peak times, depending the age of the charger, the likelihood of getting a higher charging rate is reduced.
The Tesla plug also only carries a 400V platform (it can go higher but current Teslas charge at this rate, so that’s where it is set) which means a lot of new batteries based on 800v and 900v will not get the full kW rate of which they are capable.
Comparatively, a 350kW EVGo or Electrify America site will always provide a minimum of 150kW per charging station.
I’ve driven from Vancouver to Los Angeles four times in the last two years in a Volvo XC40 recharge without any issues using Electrify America, EVgo stations and hotel overnight charging.
In sharing the Tesla connector (NACS) with other manufacturers and slowly opening the Supercharger network to all brands with CCS Magic Dock adaptor, Tesla could be in for a reality check.
The first is a coding challenge. GM, Ford, Rivian and other OEMs that adopt the NACS must ensure their integration with Tesla’s coding is seamless. Hopefully, this will be the case, but mistakes could result in charging session failures and frustrated drivers.
The second potential and main challenge is cable length. While Tesla’s newest Superchargers have longer charging cables, the shorter cables in use at most Supercharger sites could lead to chaos when they become accessible to more non-Tesla vehicles. Already, many Superchargers can be seen with dangerous exposed cables due to drivers pulling and stretching the cable casing.
Right now, it’s common to see non-Tesla brands take up two or three Supercharger stalls just to reach the charging port. This will continue to be an issue unless all OEMs who integrate the NACS decide to standardize and move the charging port to the back end of the driver side.
But, even if all OEMs were to move the charging port to the left side, it fails to account for curbside charging, which will play a major role in the electrification of transportation. My Polestar with the charging port on the driver side is an absolute nightmare when using a curbside charging station. In Europe, driver-side ports are a non-issue because parallel parking against street traffic is allowed. But it poses a problem in North America.
Speaking of international jurisdictions, if the Tesla connector is superior, why hasn’t Tesla pushed its charging port in other countries? China uses GB/T and Europe uses Type 2 (CCS2) and, for the last few years, Tesla has been selling vehicles equipped with GB/T and CCS2, not its NACS port.
The business case (bigger picture)
More interoperability is better for the industry. Having multiple charge point operators available increases competition, allowing drivers to choose their preferred network. On the flip side, there are many reasons why Tesla would rather remain the dominant player, using its own charging standard.
First, it allows Tesla to avoid paying large sums required to retrofit all its previous charging stations (around 18,000) with CCS connectors or Magic Dock as they had to do in Europe as well as incorporating CCS into its North American vehicles. It also makes it easier for Tesla to claim the Tesla plug is no longer a “proprietary” standard thereby easing access to public money funding.
And, should the NACS become the dominant connector in North America, it creates an additional barrier of entry for Chinese and European auto manufacturers. Could this be a play for the American OEMs to get together and secure additional market share by making it harder for foreign competition?
The most important point to consider is Tesla’s monopoly over the market. With enough NACS partnerships Tesla could easily control the price of charging and make Supercharging much more expensive than it already is.
For example, at the Arroyo Charging Hub in Pasadena, CA there is a mix of Superchargers and Tritium 175kW / 50kW. Some Tesla drivers were using the universal Tritium charging stations. Why? The Superchargers were priced at $0.40/kWh whereas the Tritium units, operated by Pasadena Power and Water, were priced at $0.15/kWh.
On top of the increased profit on charging, Tesla will be able to cash in on an enormous amount of carbon credits (LCFS) attached to its Superchargers available in various states and provinces, providing another quick pathway to a monopoly via the carbon credit market.
Wrap it up!
One of the big risks for OEMs moving ahead with NACS is the lack of an unbiased regulatory body.
For an industry standard to be successful, it requires a not-for-profit organization or government entity to supervise the evolution of the standard and avoid providing a competitive advantage to one private company over another.
In this case, Tesla, a very much for-profit organization, would be the governing body giving themselves a complete monopoly on charging standards that aren’t overseen by a non-competitive organization, yet.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it’s a CCS or NACS, but there is an overwhelming need for a nonpartisan organization to regulate the market while keeping it competitive. Finding a charging plug standard that people can rely on is crucial to meet the 100 per cent new EV sales goal by 2035 as this is only adding confusion for the consumers.
Editor’s note: Sections of this article were revised on July 21, 2023, to clarify details related to Supercharger technical performance and design.
Based in British Columbia, Maxime is the founder and president of LeadingAhead Energy.