Uncertainties still hover over the EV industry’s response to NACS
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EV Charging
Oct 19, 2023
Mehanaz Yakub

A long list of automakers is adopting Tesla’s North American Charging Standard connector. What does this mean for the EV industry, charging networks and EV drivers?

With this surge in interest comes pivotal questions about what implications the widespread adoption of NACS will have on the future of the EV industry.

A long list of automakers is adopting Tesla’s North American Charging Standard connector. What does this mean for the EV industry, charging networks and EV drivers?

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Volkswagen’s announcement in December 2023 and Mazda’s announcement in January 2024 that they will be adopting NACS.

Last November, Tesla opened its exclusive North American Charging Standard (NACS) plug type to all automakers who wished to adopt it.

For a few months, not much happened. Then, this spring, summer and fall, more than a dozen EV brands announced agreements to incorporate Tesla’s NACS charging connector into their upcoming electric vehicle models.

Ford started the party. Since then, Fisker, General Motors, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Rivian, Polestar, Volvo, Honda, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mazda have followed suit, promising NACS ports in their EVs in North America by the end of 2025.

With this surge in interest comes pivotal questions about what implications the widespread adoption of NACS will have on the future of the EV industry.

Electric Autonomy reached out to some industry experts to get their insights on what this adoption surge might mean for individual consumers, the future use of other charging plugs and what the auto industry and charging operators can expect to happen next.

Opportunity to access more chargers

David Adams, president and CEO of Global Automakers of Canada, sees the growing adoption of the NACS connector to be a “good thing” for the industry.

“Opening up the Tesla charging stations certainly adds to the available charging infrastructure, in addition to those which are built out by other entities,” says Adams in an interview with Electric Autonomy.

But while opening up the Tesla SuperCharger network is providing access to more chargers to non-Tesla drivers, Brent Gruber, executive director of the EV practice at J.D. Power, points out a potential downside.

“The real question is: is there a sufficient level [of Tesla chargers] to meet the demand of the consumers who will now be utilizing those chargers? And I think the answer is ‘no,'” says Gruber in an interview with Electric Autonomy.

“We see it across the industry, including with Tesla. Tesla’s network isn’t growing fast enough to keep up with current demand. What I foresee happening is, as much as the industry (and Tesla) may not want to admit it, there’s going to be a lot of crowding at those charging stations and a lot of people who will have to endure long wait times.”

Currently, Tesla is lobbying the Ontario and British Columbia governments specifically on speeding up the process of installing new chargers.

The automaker’s latest Ontario filing reads, in part, “Tesla’s intended outcome is to help accelerate the pace at which charging station new service connections are provided while minimizing connection costs, in order to increase the number of charging stations deployed in Ontario.”

Meanwhile, in B.C., Tesla is looking to, “make recommendations and provide support for the development of EV charging infrastructure on public and private lands in BC to help accelerate the adoption of EVs in the province.”

Adding NACS to public charging stations

To address the expected longer wait times at Tesla stations, a simple solution is for Tesla and other charging networks to build out more charging stations for drivers to have access to, agree both Adams and Gruber.

How many more is up for debate, but currently the federal government is investing more than $1.2 billion to build 84,500 public EV chargers by 2027.

To support the installation of some of these EV chargers, Natural Resources Canada has its Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program (ZEVIP). The program provides funding for projects that include a variety of charging connector types such as SAE J1772 Combo, Combined Charging System (CCS), CHArge de MOve (CHAdeMO), as well as NACS.

However, NACS connectors fall under a “proprietary charging connector types” category outlined by NRCan that caps the number of NACS chargers at a single charging site to 75 per cent of the total chargers. Ultimately, this means that NACS connectors cannot be the sole option available at a public charging station and that they must be offered alongside other connector types.

Unless the rule changes, that limits the potential for new ZEVIP-supported charging stations to fill the gap.

“NRCan’s ZEVIP is open to evolving requirements,” says a spokesperson for NRCan in an email to Electric Autonomy. “The NACS will be listed as an eligible connector type in the next request for proposals, but there is no intention to make NACS mandatory at this time.”

Retrofits of existing stations will also help. Some charging network operators, such as FLO, BC Hydro and Electrify Canada, have shown interest in the NACS connector and announced plans to add NACS plugs to their current and upcoming charging stations.

Some automakers still left to adopt

Even as some charging networks start adding NACS plugs, there remains a dwindling number of automakers, such as Stellantis and Volkswagen, that have not announced any plans to incorporate the connector into their EVs.

Why some automakers haven’t jumped the NACS bandwagon yet, “I don’t pretend to know,” says Adams. “But in some cases, it could be, perhaps contractual obligations that they have with other charging station providers that utilize the CCS standard.”

That being said, Adams believes it’s not a matter of if, but when these automakers will embrace the NACS standard.

“If you look at it through the lens of our gas stations, they don’t have two or three choices of nozzles, it’s all a standard nozzle,” says Adams.

“At the end of the day, what we will probably see is one standard prevail. I think whether that’s NACS or CCS, it’s going to be whatever standard optimizes the charging experience, minimizes the time, and is as reliable as possible.”

Set standards not likely

While automakers decide which charging standard to use in their EVs, it’s still unclear whether the set standard for electric vehicle charging will be NACS, says Gruber.

Historically, SAE International, which is the organization responsible for setting automotive industry standards, has never established a set standard for DC fast charging connectors. This is why alternative plug types like CCS and CHAdeMO exist.

“Standards reduce complexity, reduce cost, reduce opportunities for problems. So if there is a standardization that’s in place, that’s optimal for auto manufacturers,” says Gruber.

The reason why NACS is gaining momentum now, says Gruber, is because “the non-Tesla manufacturers recognize how much traction Tesla had within the industry,” in terms of its rapidly increasing sales and market share and high reliability and customer satisfaction. As a result, they’ve found it necessary to embrace Tesla’s charging system.

“It’s sort of created this standard by default. So it isn’t part of the SAE standardization for charging, but it’s how the market spoke and developed its own standard based on what Tesla was doing,” says Gruber.

However, if SAE did adopt NACS as a set standard, that would potentially mean retrofitting thousands of existing chargers to include NACS ports. While some charging network operators are already going that route, it is a significant undertaking that some networks might not be financially capable of, says Gruber.

“The best case scenario here given the circumstances is having these manufacturers adopting the North American Charging Standard, being able to utilize that, obviously, but then also being able to utilize the rest of the DC fast chargers that are out there.”

NACS benefit remains to be seen

While it’s most likely that the immediate future of EV charging will include the coexistence of different charging connector types, NACS has certain advantages over other charging plugs.

“It’s been pretty well documented that Tesla has the most reliable and the most satisfying fast charging network,” says Gruber.

The Supercharger network’s reputation is based on being a closed ecosystem that has only allowed for a connection between a Tesla vehicle and a Tesla NACS charger infrastructure. As other auto brands start to enter the ecosystem, “The concern I have is, how easy is it to replicate that Tesla experience?” says Gruber.

“We know that they’re going to implement software that’s going to allow them to work with those chargers, but is that going to be a seamless process? My assumption is that there will be some growing pains. But they’ll quickly figure it out. Just because it’s the best immediate solution for EV owners.”

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