Tesla China May Eventually Open Supercharger Network To Other Brands

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Tesla China VP Tao Lin told members of a Chinese online forum that the automaker is open to the idea of allowing vehicles from other manufacturers to use its Supercharger network at some time in the future, according to Sina Technology.

This is not the first time we’ve heard Tesla executives say that other manufacturers’ vehicles could eventually use Superchargers. As early as 2014, Elon Musk said he didn’t want the Supercharger network to be a “walled garden,” and that other manufacturers might be allowed to use the most widespread fast charging network in the future. However, Tesla and Musk later clarified that the other manufacturers’ cars would have to meet Tesla technical standards (for safety and basic compatibility) and that the other manufacturers would have to contribute financially to the building and expansion of the Supercharger network (Tesla is not a charitable organization for other auto manufacturers). Nonetheless, this topic comes up regularly, and many people are unaware of these earlier statements.

According to Sina Technology, VP Tao Lin made similar clarifications. She told the forum users that any vehicles using Supercharger sites in the future must adhere to Tesla technical, safety, and speed standards. She also said that the Supercharger network is currently struggling to grow fast enough to meet the charging needs of Tesla’s vehicles, and that no other vehicles would be able to join the network until such time as there is spare capacity for them to offer.

Fast charging can be a complicated topic, especially for new EV drivers. Within the United States, the three most common fast charging standards are Tesla’s Superchargers, the CCS standard (used by most manufacturers now), and the CHAdeMO standard (used in the past by most Japanese manufacturers, but now mostly abandoned, except by Nissan). Globally, it’s more complicated, with different variants of the CCS standard being common in Europe, and GB/T being common in China.

Outside of the US, new Teslas have different charging plugs. Instead of the Tesla-style plug that fits both Level 2 chargers and Superchargers, European vehicles now come with a standard CCS plug. In China, they have both a Chinese version of the Type 2 plug and the GB/T plug for rapid charging.

This makes the question of inviting other manufacturers’ cars onto the network different than in the United States. While US Teslas have a different plug than cars from other manufacturers, European and Chinese Supercharger stations have the same plugs that most other EVs use, but don’t currently allow a charging session to start unless the vehicle can communicate with the charging network and let it know whose Tesla account should be billed for the charging session. When the plug fits, it definitely raises the question of why Teslas can charge at other stations but other cars cannot use a Tesla station.

It also makes the matter of inviting other cars a little easier in the future, with the ability to change the software later to allow other cars to charge if they have permission, presumably without having to completely rewire the station and its plugs.

The fact that such questions are being asked also shows just how much Tesla is growing in China. In another article, my colleague and friend Johnna Crider points out several huge accomplishments. Not only has Tesla introduced several models in the country (including the Model Y), but it is also opening a new Supercharger factory near Shanghai and recently installed its 500th Supercharger stall in the country. With such a huge geographic area and population, there’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s happening much faster than it did in the United States and other countries, as Tesla now has access to much greater resources than it used to.

Screenshot from Tesla’s Supercharger webpage showing locations in Asia.

Really, 500 stalls doesn’t give us a full idea of what this means. Looking at the geographic spread of the stations really shows how much Tesla has accomplished. Nearly all of eastern China is covered, including the most densely populated areas of the country. In fact, if one draws a line from HeiHe to TengChong, well over 90% of the population lives east of that line.

Nearly all of China’s population lies east of the “Heihe-Tengchong Line.” (Public domain image.)

Given the sheer number of people living in China, there’s a lot of room for growth, and Tesla will be building new Supercharger stations at a frantic pace just to keep up with the new sales that are developing in China.

What’s difficult to determine is what the non-Tesla charging situation is in China. While the Supercharger network grows rapidly, websites like PlugShare don’t show us what GB/T stations exist that were put in by other entities. The fact that other drivers want to use Tesla’s stations must mean there is some shortage of other available stations, but we’re going to have to save for another story what it’s like to drive long distance with other manufacturers’ EVs in China.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba