Tesla has indicated that next year it will allow other cars to charge at their supercharger network, at least in Norway. If it stays in Norway — which has certain regulatory incentives to make your chargers available to call cars — it’s no big deal, but if it spreads it could be a big change.
Tesla’s supercharger network is a huge advantage over other cars. In fact, until recently, I told anybody shopping for an electric car, “If you want to be able to do road trips outside of your town, the only choice is Tesla.” That may be slowly changing as the network of CCS/Chademo chargers, mostly being built by Electrify America as Volkswagen’s penance for Dieselgate, is growing to a good size.
Tesla seems some times to be the only company to understand charging. They built the charging network very early on, and offered it free to early buyers. Any EV with 200 miles can handle driving around its hometown, never charging anywhere but at its home. But for people who can’t charge at home, and those on road trips, fast chargers are very important. Tesla knew that, and instead of thinking of chargers as a business to sell electricity, they built their network as a free service to help sell cars. Later, they started charging new models, but claimed the prices were “at cost.”
It’s obvious if you go out on an EV road trip, where you sometimes see Tesla charging stations in the same parking lot as CCS fast charging stations from Electrify America and others. The Tesla cars are often many, the other stations more often sit unused. Until recently it’s been rare to see anything but a Tesla out in rural country on a road trip.
One of the surprising challenges has been maintenance. Tesla maintains its network, but it also mostly makes big stations with from 8 to 40 chargers, so having one or two out of service is never a big deal. Other charging stations tend to have just 2 or 4 chargers. The initial stations were only 50kw, though new stations go up to 350kw on CCS for cars which can handle them. Tesla’s early stations were almost all 150kw outside of cities, and now are 250kw (which almost all Teslas can handle at least 200kw of.)
Readers report that breakdowns at non-Tesla fast chargers are surprisingly common, and that this is a crisis because there may be only one or two chargers at a station. They also report repairs often taking significant time with some brands, because there is often little motivation to repair them. (This is even more true with Level 2 charging stations, which often were put in due to available subsidies or for “look green” reasons, but with no money to pay for maintenance.)
If you get to a 2-station location and one is broken, or worse, 2, it can be a long wait or a catastrophe, particularly if, as you often do, you don’t have enough charge to make it to the next station. The worst that ever happens at Tesla stations is that they are full and there is a line, but with many stations, the line almost always moves reasonably quickly. If only one station is working, a line of 2 could mean a 2 hour wait. In the last year, EA buildout has improved this so that stations are closer, and it’s more likely you can trek to another.
You can track the reliability status of stations using Plugshare where users review station quality. It’s very rare to see a Tesla station that’s not a perfect 10, but very common to see lower scores for the others.
Tesla also made the experience close to ideal. You pull into a station, pull out the cord, plug it in, and leave for your meal or shopping. Billing is all handled over the cord, there is almost no user interface. In the future, data protocols will be standardized for CCS to allow this simpler experience. Charging stations with billing have an extra layer that can go wrong, with billing systems failing or cards not being accepted. (A classic problem in some stations is you can’t get cell service to arrange billing in some locations.)
In the USA, Tesla developed their own connector which is superior to the “standard” connectors. It’s compact, light, does communications and does all speeds of charging in one connector. In Europe, though, regulatory pressure had Tesla switch to the standard CCS cable in its European form, which makes it easier for Teslas to use other chargers and for Tesla to accept other cars at its stations. In the USA, Teslas must carry an adapter to use Chademo stations, and few drivers have it. (A few Chademo stations come with the adapter, and Tesla should have just given adapters to those stations rather than have car owners carry them.) Chademo has lost the battle, however, and will fade away, so eventually a CCS adapter will probably arise. And Tesla can easily make an adapter the other way to make available at its charging stations if other cars what to charge there.
On the one hand, Tesla could make money from competitor’s cars charging, and it could charge them a market rate rather than the at-cost rate it charges its own cars. But it would seem they would not want to. Tesla’s network is a huge advantage, and they don’t want other cars to be able to take advantage of it. Indeed, due to the cost of adapters, it would mean that CCS cars could charge everywhere, while Teslas could not. It would also use capacity at stations, and if they get full, Tesla drivers would be forced to wait, and they would not be happy. Tesla has indicated in the past it would be open to letting other cars use their stations if the makers of those cars contributed to the large cost of building out their network. No price has been publicly disclosed, though.
Many people lament that there are 3 fast charging standards (2 now that Chademo is fading.) They hope for an ideal world where every car can charge everywhere, just as every gasoline car can fill up at any gasoline station. (Though that’s not true for Diesel cars.) That has its attractions, but so does competition and innovation. Tesla’s network and connector are clearly superior to all the standards they ignored, and since Tesla makes up the majority of EV sales, it could be argued that the standards don’t qualify for that title.
Adapters solve the problem. If adapters are stocked at the charging stations (as EVGo does with Tesla Chademo adapters at a few of its stations) then drivers don’t have to care or carry adapters. While it’s in the interests of both the charging stations and the car vendor to have the adapters there, if necessary, they can be “rented” as part of the charging fee in order to pay for them. The billing systems can know the adapter is in use and charge a small rental fee to assure it’s profitable to place them at all stations where they make sense. (You don’t need Tesla adapters if there is a Tesla station across the parking lot, unless it regularly fills up, but you do want them at stations where there is no native charging for miles.)