One of the main benefits of owning a Tesla, apart from driving one of the best electric cars, is the fact that you have exclusive access to the Tesla Supercharger network. It is arguably one of the best public electric vehicle charging networks in existence today, with over 1,000 locations across North America alone.
But superchargers will eventually open their doors to non-Tesla cars, and the automaker is already taking steps to make that happen in the US.
This news comes directly from the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, speaking at the Financial Times Future of the Car event (via InsideEVs). According to Musk, Tesla will start adding “the rest of the industry’s connectors as a supercharger option in the US.”
The problem with the opening of the supercharging network has always been the fact that Tesla uses a special charging plug in North America. The Tesla connector precedes the CCS-1 standard that has been adopted by the rest of the auto industry, and they are inherently incompatible.
It would be like trying to plug a British 3-prong plug directly into a North American outlet. No matter how hard you try, it won’t work without an adapter. Currently, there are no adapters that allow you to connect a cable that is not intended for CCS to a CCS port.
Musk previously suggested that an adapter system could be a possibility, but now it seems that a permanent solution is on the cards. And that makes a lot of sense: To go the adapter route, Tesla would have to develop a Tesla-to-CCS adapter, then convince enough people to buy it to make it worthwhile.
Given the price of some other Tesla adapters, like the often $400 CHAdeMO-to-Tesla model, it would be a great investment for drivers. It’s also likely to be subject to abuse, if Tesla chooses to provide inverters at unmanned Supercharger centers.
This is not an issue in Europe, where non-Tesla Supercharging trials are already underway. Tesla scrapped its own connection fairly early on in its European expansion, meaning it uses the same CCS-2 charging system as the majority of non-Teslas on the road. However, for whatever reason, North American chargers still use Tesla’s proprietary plug, and that’s clearly a problem when it comes to allowing other electric cars to use their grid.
Musk did not provide a timetable on when the first non-Tesla supercharging would take place in the US, though he did explain why the automaker would make the change. “We’re trying as much as possible to do the right thing to advance electric, even if it reduces our competitive advantage,” Musk said.
The fact that Tesla can also make money from the growing number of non-Tesla electric vehicles hitting the roads is probably a nice bonus as well.
Supercharging other than Tesla is sorely needed — for a variety of reasons
I’ve always been on board with the possibility that non-Teslas have access to Tesla Superchargers. Electric vehicle charging infrastructure is improving, but it still has a long way to go before it’s truly suitable for the masses. That point really came home last month, when I was driving across the country to visit my dad for the weekend.
Here in the UK, the Easter holiday falls between two bank holidays. This means that a large percentage of the country’s population, including myself, spend four days on the weekend. It felt like the perfect time to take the 200+ mile trip, which takes at least three and a half hours each way. Usually more, when you think about traffic, bathroom breaks and recharge time.
Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to have the same idea, including throngs of people driving electric vehicles. With the break off usually only two, or sometimes three quick chargers, there were about a half dozen people trying to plug in wherever it left off.
In addition to the seasoned owners of electric cars, there were a lot of novices who took their first long trips, trying to master the Gridserve fast charging network at the worst possible time. There was even a hybrid driver in one place, who seemed completely confused as he couldn’t connect the CCS plug to the Type 2 AC charger and refused to get out of the way.
In other words, it was a bit of a mess, and further proof that the UK needs more electric chargers along the highway. Fortunately, I was driving a Jaguar I-Pace at the time, which had the range that got me to my dad’s house without having to fight for a charger along the way.
But one thing I did notice, during both legs of the ride, was the number of empty Tesla Supercharging slots.
There were a lot of Teslas cars on the road, but the sheer number of supercharging slots meant that many were never used. Which is great if you have a Tesla, but is useless for anyone else.
But no matter how many chargers are made, whether we’re talking about the UK or the US, Tesla has a head start. That’s why Tesla has more than 30,000 superchargers in about 3,382 locations around the world – 1,300 of which are in the United States. These chargers provide very fast recharge speeds, up to 250 kW in most locations.
Opening the network to non-Teslas will dramatically increase the number of EV chargers available overnight. Not only does this offer greater potential for long-distance driving, but it may also incentivize other charging networks to speed up the rollout of their own high-speed chargers.
Using the UK as an example, more people using Superchargers in motorway services means fewer drivers to connect to a Gridserve charger. Even if a supercharger turns out to be more expensive, how many drivers will wait indefinitely to save a few dollars? The obvious solution would be to install more chargers, and try to beat Tesla at its own game.
So far, the rollout of non-Tesla supercharging in Europe has been rather slow, and it’s clear that a future US rollout won’t sweep the country overnight. Retrofitting new charging cables at more than 1,300 locations would be a very time-consuming process, after all. On top of that, it’s also possible that Tesla will need to do a lot of testing before it will allow the public access.
There are still a few unanswered questions about how the non-Tesla Supercharging rollout will work, particularly about what the experience will be for Tesla and non-Tesla drivers alike. However, Elon Musk wasn’t just in vain, as he has been accused in the past, when he announced that change was coming.
Tesla seems to be taking the topic of non-Tesla supercharging very seriously, and it looks like a US rollout could be in the cards pretty soon. Let’s hope so, because the faster we can all access Superchargers, the better the EV experience will be for everyone.