Yesterday’s announcement that Ford’s future vehicles would be equipped with Tesla’s NACS charging connector (Supercharging port) signaled a big shift in the industry. Before the announcement, Tesla was using its plug and everyone else was using the CCS1 plug in the United States. It seemed like this would continue indefinitely, as manufacturers of both vehicles and charging equipment have been using CCS for years. So, the Ford announcement wasn’t just one company’s decision, but possibly a break in the dam holding Tesla’s plug back from further adoption in the industry.
But it’s not a foregone conclusion that the rest of the industry will follow Ford’s lead. Tesla fans will say that the other companies just need more time to see the light and do things the right way (read: Tesla’s way). There are some merits to that position, as Tesla’s charging experience has proven a lot more reliable than the others — but that doesn’t negate the other relevant things companies have to consider.
The reality is that the EV industry is a complex place. Some companies specialize only in charging. Others work only with vehicles. Yet others only work with drivers themselves or provide tangentially-related services. The complexity really gets thick when you consider that some companies overlap these categories, such as Volkswagen Group’s Electrify America, which itself was a forced creation of government in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal. On top of that, there are many, many partnerships between all of these industry players that they’re committed to and have spent billions working on.
Ford looked things over and determined that going with Tesla was in its best interest, but automakers and charging providers (not to mention all of the other industry players, like suppliers) are not interchangeable. They’re all in different positions in the industry, some differing only a little and others differing a lot. Their differing needs, motivations, past investments, and the needs of companies they’ve partnered with all affect how they’ll react to this news.
All of this makes Yogi Berra look like a genius when he said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” So, we’ll need to watch the industry players closely if we want to try to predict where the industry is going, and we also need to try to not assume too much.
Two Charging Players Have Already Responded
While all of this will definitely change in the coming weeks and months, I did manage to get two industry players to give me a statement about their intentions and their thinking that we can use to start making sense of what’s coming next.
First, here’s a statement from Electrify America: “Electrify America, the nation’s largest open ultra-fast charging network, is built on the widely adopted SAE Combo Charging System (CCS-1) standard. Over 26 automotive brands utilize the CCS-1 standard today. Since our founding, we have focused on building an inclusive and open Ultra-Fast charging network to facilitate the adoption of electric vehicles (EV). Since 2020, we have experienced a 20-fold increase in charging sessions. In 2022, we delivered over 5.2 million successful charging sessions and 173 gigawatts-hours of electricity, while continuing to open new stations and replace early technology chargers with our latest generation. Electrify America was also the first to introduce the standards-based Plug & Charge in North America, allowing for a seamless charging experience across multiple vehicles.
“As the EV charging infrastructure landscape continues to evolve, we continue to monitor market demand and government policies. Electrify America is committed to being a part of the broader charging solution for EV drivers today and in the future.”
It’s also worth noting that in my discussions with the company’s representative, it was expressed that they’d like to be part of an industry that has options for consumers, and that maybe we shouldn’t frame EV charging as a “vs.” thing as much as a set of choices that benefit consumers.
I also heard from FreeWire Energy, the maker of EV charging stations with integrated battery storage that we’ve covered a lot over the last couple of years. “FreeWire commends the recent announcement by Tesla and Ford to make NACS charging accessible to more vehicles. For a sustainable transition to electric transportation, it is crucial to quickly increase investments and make reliable, publicly accessible fast-charging infrastructure widely available. It will require all charging providers to work together to meet public charging demand, and we support Tesla in making steps towards opening their technology and network. FreeWire has long been a proponent of standardization across the industry as it will make charging more convenient for drivers and allow infrastructure to keep pace with EV adoption nationwide. FreeWire plans to make NACS connectors available on Boost Chargers by mid 2024.”
When I asked them about plans to retrofit existing FreeWire stations and those made between now and mid-2024, they said they don’t have any current plans for that.
Some Things We Can Take Away From This
I’d like to invite Tesla superfans and those who have a lot of negative feelings toward Electrify America to take a deep breath real quick. I won’t defend the network’s problems here (even if they’re often overstated), but it’s important to read their whole statement before jumping to any conclusions. I shared this quote on Twitter first, and didn’t see many people do that.
Yes, they’re restating their commitment to the CCS1 standard, but they also express some flexibility. They say that they’re aware that the charging landscape can and will change, and that they’re committed to keeping themselves a part of that landscape. They didn’t outright say that they’ll ever support Tesla’s NACS, but they did indicate that they may change if the industry changes.
FreeWire was a lot more open about embracing Tesla’s plug, announcing specific plans to put the plug on future stations. But the company rep didn’t go as far as to say they’re going to abandon CCS. Like Electrify America, they’re going to try to be part of an evolving charging landscape, and for FreeWire, that means making the plug available and not replacing CCS with it entirely. But, if the Tesla/NACS plug does overtake the industry, FreeWire and Electrify America appear willing to follow the industry down that path as needed to keep their companies going.
So, the big thing I’d take away from these first responses is that the industry is trying to be flexible, and that should be good news for everybody. Not only does it mean there’s room for better solutions to be implemented, but it also means innovation and competition won’t get driven out of the industry.
Featured image provided by Electrify America.
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