US Twin Standard Charging Risks BEV Adoption

Ever used to forging its own path, Tesla has a proprietary standard, North American Charging Standard (NACS), for its charging connectors and charging stations.

However, a recent deal with one of the more hallowed automakers on the scene might make what’s proprietary, well, a true standard at least in the US. Perhaps we are on the road to a single, unifying charging regime, at least in the world’s most influential auto market.

In May, Ford and Tesla announced they had struck a deal in which Ford BEVs would be granted access to the vast majority of Tesla’s Superchargers, the company’s Level 3 charging stations. This is to be put into effect through software integration plus an adapter for the charging connector – Ford’s chargers run on the Combined Charging System 1 (CCS1), i.e. the standard pushed by basically every US carmaker other than Tesla (a similar standard, CCS2, has become the norm in Europe).

The adapter will allow CCS charging connectors to plug into the NACS ports of the Superchargers. The deal followed Tesla’s February announcement that it was opening the NACS design specs for any charging connector or port developer to make their own. The tie-up with the giant auto brand “is an unequivocal, complete and total admission of failure to build charging by Ford on behalf of legacy OEMs,” said Jackson Haskell, director of EV infrastructure at legacy ICE equipment company Guardian Fueling Technologies. “Ford’s early EV sales told them one thing: charging is 50% of the EV ownership experience and besides Tesla (which is a 9/10), the charging experience is garbage. Level 2 and DC [fast charging] alike. Vehicles were being returned,” he added.

Despite the proprietary nature of NACS, it’s the top charging standard already. As of February, when that access announcement was made, the company had 17,711 Superchargers available to channel power into vehicles. That comprised about 60% of the total of fast charging stations in the US. So, Tesla’s already ahead of the game in terms of numbers. Also, the deal with Ford cements its NACS as a standard acceptable to legacy automakers.

That might be a blow to the most powerful single-standard advocate on the scene – the US Federal government. As part of the sprawling Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021, the Feds carved out large swathes of public funds for the take-up of green energy solutions. Part of this is the Department of Energy’s $5Bn National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program, an initiative to “strategically deploy” charging solutions throughout the country, that counts on CCS1 coming out on top.

That investment can, theoretically, help put a lot of charging stations onstream quickly; the program’s goal is to establish a 500,000-strong network by 2030. The investment, together with the half-million station figure, augurs strongly for a unified charging standard. What complicates the current situation is that the government has mandated at least four CCS plugs per each fast charge station. According to the letter of the law, then, Tesla will need to have CCS access on its Superchargers if the company wants to maintain or expand its lead. This, however, won’t stop the standards fight; especially now with the Ford deal in its pocket, Tesla is unlikely to abandon NACS entirely.

This might be harmful for the advancement of alt-fuel technology generally and BEVs specifically. “Practical considerations like planning for charger access are most certainly an impediment to EV customers in their buying processes today as we move beyond early adopters and into the broader population,” said John Cooley, founder and chief of products at next-generation energy tech company Nanoramic.

Perhaps the road we’re going down won’t lead to a single standard at all. Who says Americans can’t have both NACS and CCS1? “In terms of impacting EV adoption, having multiple standards will only hold things back if the public charging infrastructure for CCS1 remains dispersed and facing reliability challenges,” said Steve Birkett, editor of auto website and a BEV advocate and pundit. “The most likely path for a dual-standard infrastructure is having both connectors available at every charging station and making adapters universally available to all EV drivers, whatever model they choose.”

Birkett pointed out that Tesla owners already have a leg up on this because they can purchase CCS-to-NACS adapters for their charging connectors (although these are pricey; they retail through Tesla’s website at a cool $175 apiece and third-party products aren’t much less expensive).

While a double standard is a possibility, it’s not a probability in an auto industry that has traditionally embraced one-choice-fits-all solutions: visit your local gas station for a long-standing example. Ultimately, Birkett believes the US will settle on either CCS1 or NACS.

Nanoramic’s Cooley does too. He said: “We believe demand for convenient EV charging will drive the EV charging industry at large and, in the US, to where it needs to go. In other words, build-out, standardization and innovation for EV charging is going to happen on a relevant timescale because of the real need and commercial opportunity.”

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