The Creation of Sacred Cows
It’s no secret that I often get annoyed with the most fanatical of Tesla’s Stans. And by Stan, I’m not being hyperbolic. There really are people who aren’t far off from the kind of insane fan obsession depicted in the Eminem song Stan (and its accompanying music video). There are women who think they’ll get Elon Musk’s attention and marry him (or have some of his babies). There are guys who get into weird EV conspiracy theories and get so obsessive and strange that they alienate even fairly committed (but still sane) fans.
But, derangement can cut both ways. One can be an obsessive supporter just as one can be an obsessive opponent. While there are plenty of sane and reasonable reasons to be skeptical of Tesla, have disagreements with Elon Musk, and think SpaceX is dangerous or wasteful, there are people who go far beyond what’s reasonable and make their hatred of Elon Musk their whole personality.
The rest of us? We can only watch while these two camps pretend to speak for us and try to shove us into one camp or the other. Just like everything else these days, there’s two sides to every issue. And, like the Sith, they think in absolutes. If you’re not with them on everything, then you’re their enemy.
One of the bad things about online communities that get captured by deranged people is the tendency to devolve into an echo chamber. All of the reasonable people who won’t offer unconditional and absolute support for Elon Musk and his companies get driven away by crazy behavior, but most leave these communities quietly because they’ve got jobs, they have lives, and they’re leaving because they’re tired of talking to the patients who’ve gained control of the asylum.
What remains is a community of people whose major ideas never get challenged. Good ideas and bad alike thrive because the good ideas don’t face much opposition and the bad ideas would only be opposed by people willing to waste their time arguing with the most deranged and annoying Stans or haters. Reasonable people leave the arguments early, and the Stans and haters think they’ve won.
Eventually, the Stans and the haters both end up with a number of “sacred cows.” Some ideas, when never given a serious challenge, end up becoming like a sacred and unquestionable religious belief. For the Stans, Elon Musk is the savior of humanity and his companies can do no wrong, ever. For the haters, Elon Musk is the embodiment of evil, and his companies are on the brink of collapse once people figure out that they’re all fraudulent.
The North American Charging Sacred Cow
There’s one particular sacred cow that has been really getting on my nerves: the idea that all automotive manufacturers in the US should use Tesla’s charging plug.
On the surface, it seems like a reasonable argument. Tesla’s plug is compact, reasonably durable, and is used by the most widespread and reliable charging network in North America as of this writing. It’s also true that most EVs use it. With the announcement last year that Tesla is opening up the standard and calling it the North American Charging Standard (NACS), it would make a lot of sense to adopt the plug. Another manufacturer, Aptera, has already announced plans to adopt the Tesla plug, so everybody can do it!
But, the above line of thinking doesn’t include all of the relevant facts.
The biggest problem is that other manufacturers and charging providers have already invested a lot in the CCS plug. If Tesla had offered up its design as openly as it did in late 2022 a decade earlier, everybody else might have been able to adopt it. There are a great many vehicles, charging stations, and toolings at automotive plants set up to use CCS, and to replace all of those would be very expensive. Plus, people who’ve bought non-Tesla EVs for the past decade would likely form up into class action suits against the manufacturers if they left them high and dry, so they’d need to do something to make us whole, too.
The other problem is one of appearances. If everybody ditched what they were doing and did everything the Tesla way, that would look bad for them. I know that sounds childish, but if you look deeper, it’s a decision that’s fraught with risk of customer alienation, and risks making the CCS standard political instead of practical. The worst possible outcome would be to have “woke” Democrat charging stations and Republican charging stations so we can have yet another stupid money-sucking culture war.
But, there’s an even bigger political problem that we have to discuss that dwarfs all of the above.
“NACS” Doesn’t Meet Infrastructure Bill Requirements
A far bigger problem is that the Infrastructure Bill won’t let the federal government spend the billions slated for charging on stations with Tesla plugs. The law required that all states install “non-proprietary connectors that meet applicable industry safety standards.” At the time the law was written, Tesla’s connectors did not meet that definition, and while Tesla would like to pretend otherwise, its plug isn’t an industry standard just because it is calling it the “North American Charging Standard” now. So, regulators wrote the regulations requiring CCS plugs (the only plug that met the law’s requirements in early 2022).
And the process for becoming an industry standard to qualify? CharIN, the standards body that sets these standards, basically told Tesla to take a hike. It said that Tesla could have its plug considered to become an industry standard, but that it would have to go through the same process CCS did, which would take years. So, there’s really no path for the Tesla plug to meet the requirements of the infrastructure law before the funds for charging stations are all spent building thousands of CCS stations every 50 miles along most highways.
The law could be changed, but that would require redoing the law with Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, and you can bet they’d want to cut the NEVI funding way back if the law were amended, if not strip them out completely. If the funds somehow survived the Republican House, the regulations would have to be rewritten to allow something other than CCS plugs, and then all 50 states would have to scrap their plans and start over building Tesla stations instead.
Once that’s all said and done (already basically impossible), then the lawsuits would start flying over whether states are even allowed to build stations that don’t meet safety standards with the changes to the law. So, other laws would probably need changed as well.
Will manufacturers want to change their cars to not fit the thousands of new stations going in, at great expense, and at risk of alienating repeat customers? Absolutely not. Only new market entrants like Aptera are in a position to choose the Tesla plug right now, and that’s basically impossible to change.
But, it’s really not something to get one’s underwear in a knot over. Unlike the format wars of yore, where you couldn’t adapt a Beta tape to fit in a VHS player or an HD-DVD to play in a Blu-ray player, adapters aren’t a problem for EVs. Eventually, it will become common practice to carry an adapter around for Tesla cars to use CCS stations and CCS cars to use Tesla stations. The same will also probably be true for the remaining CHAdeMO cars. So, it’s really not worth worrying over!
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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