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Kentucky, Texas and Washington might add extra plugs for the popular EVs, as several automakers indicated they would make cars with the same connections in coming years.
As state transportation departments start building out a national network of electric vehicle chargers, two of the largest U.S. automakers indicated that they would start using plugs compatible with Tesla charging stations.
Ford and General Motors said they plan to move away from plugs that use the current U.S. industry standard. It’s another complication that state agencies must consider while overseeing the construction of a nationwide system of fast chargers along major highways.
In fact, Kentucky, Texas and Washington state have already raised the prospect that they would require federally funded charging stations to include Tesla-compatible chargers. Industry experts say other states are weighing similar changes.
It’s a smart move, even though it could take years to see whether Tesla-style plugs become the industry standard, said Ben Prochazka, the executive director of the Electrification Coalition, an advocacy group that promotes the transition to electric vehicles.
State and local governments should procure both types of chargers, he noted, because the Tesla design “is much more likely to be a bigger part of the system.”
“Tesla has demonstrated the ability to build out an infrastructure network that obviously is far ahead of the rest of the industry,” Prochazka said. “How much, how quickly and to what end is the question.”
But Josh Rodriguez, the program director for environment at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, or AASHTO, said the uncertainty about charging standards is having little effect on the day-to-day job of building a national charging network so far.
“It’s not changing any current procurements … right now at all,” he said. “These decisions by automakers aren’t going to be rolled out until 2025, and [the vehicles] are likely not going to be on the road until 2026. Chargers are supposed to go in the ground this year and next year.”
States are using money from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program, which was part of the 2021 federal infrastructure package, to build out the network. States must do so following rules written by the Federal Highway Administration that specify that each charging site must have four chargers with a Combined Charging System, or CCS, connector, an industry standard for plugs capable of fast charging. States can spend federal money to install Tesla-type chargers at those stations, too, but only if they also have the four required chargers.
The rules “set a baseline to ensure the national EV charging network is interoperable between different charging companies, with similar payment systems, pricing information and charging speeds,” explained Steve Lommele, a spokesperson for the federal Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, which is overseeing efforts to transition to electric vehicles.
“This protects the traveling public by ensuring a predictable and reliable EV charging experience—no matter what car you drive or where you charge,” he said in an email. “The minimum standards allow flexibility to support industry innovation in this evolving field and to allow states, communities and their partners to build charging infrastructure that meets local needs.”
Tesla’s vehicles dominate the market, but they don’t use the CCS connector. Tesla sold nearly 10 times as many vehicles in the U.S. as its next closest competitor (Hyundai-Kia) in the first half of 2023, and it maintains its own network of some 17,000 “Superchargers” across the country. It’s the largest network in the nation of fast chargers, which can replenish a battery in half an hour instead of the hours required for chargers using household plugs. Those chargers use plugs designed by Tesla, using what’s known as the North American Charging Standard, or NACS.
Last fall, Tesla announced it would let other automakers and charging stations use its NACS. Since then, rival automakers including GM, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Volvo and Rivian have said that they would use that standard in coming years. (Many of those automakers were part of a group that announced this week it would build a network of fast chargers to rival Tesla’s, which would offer both kinds of connections.)
One important step that must happen before automakers make the switch is for an outside engineering group to set an industry standard for production of the Tesla-style charging systems. The Society of Automotive Engineers will develop the standard, perhaps by the end of 2023, to ensure that Tesla and non-Tesla parts work seamlessly together.
The Biden administration pushed for the new standards to be adopted quickly. “This would open the NACS connector to other suppliers and manufacturers and has the potential to dramatically increase the size, reliability and availability of an interoperable charging network supported by industry recognized standards. That’s a win for the EV charging industry and a win for all EV drivers,” the White House said in a June announcement.
Still, the automakers’ commitments to using the Tesla-style chargers aren’t binding. They could change their minds for any number of reasons. That’s why state transportation departments are focusing on the current situation, rather than projections about future trends, said AASHTO’s Rodriguez.
“The decisions being made by states are really only being driven by what their current number of registered EVs are,” he said. Since states can use federal money to add Tesla-type chargers, Texas and Washington are looking at the vehicles now on their roads to see if it makes sense to serve both kinds of vehicles, Rodriguez said.
In Texas, nearly 73% of electric vehicles registered in the state are Teslas. Julien Devereux, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Transportation, told Route Fifty in an email that the agency is “following developments in the electric vehicle industry” in considering what type of chargers should be installed on its federally funded network.
Previously, Reuters reported that TxDOT was exploring a new mandate for Tesla-compatible chargers because of the announcements by other automakers. “The decision by Ford, GM and now Rivian to adopt NACS changed requirements for Phase 1” of the charging network rollout, the agency told Reuters.
Tesla is headquartered in Texas and has a large factory near Austin.
The decision about adding Tesla-style chargers will be up to the Texas Transportation Commission, a five-member board that oversees TxDOT. The commission originally was going to decide whether to add the requirement for Tesla-style chargers at its June meeting. But the commission put off the vote after several electric charging companies and a group of truck stops and convenience stores complained that the new requirement could jeopardize the rollout of the charging network. The commission is now slated to take up the question again on Aug. 16.
In Washington state, nearly 60% of the fully electric vehicles registered in the state at the end of June were Teslas.
Tonia Buell, the alternative fuels program manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation, said the agency is still in the “early stages of considering how recent industry developments may impact our efforts to build out EV charging infrastructure in the state and region.”
In the meantime, Rodriguez said, most state agencies are concentrating on the challenges of building out their charging corridors. “I don’t know if a DOT [leader] is really waiting around, checking the news cycle every day, waiting for another automaker to announce,” he said. “They’re laser-focused on implementing the plans they have in place.”
Daniel C. Vock is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.
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