For the last couple of months, something has really been grinding my gears, but I figured it was a fad that was going to go away. When Tesla renamed its charging connector and called it the “North American Charging Standard,” Tesla fans adopted the NACS acronym overnight. My initial reaction was that it was a bad idea to just change the word for something because it would confuse people who don’t follow the EV space that closely. Not everybody follows the Tesla blog like a religious text, and if I just changed the word without warning, people might not even know what I was talking about.
But, as I thought about it more, I realized that language is a powerful thing. Sure, you can translate a word from one language to another, but you can’t always carry over the whole meaning. All you’re doing with translation is finding the word that’s closest in meaning. Sometimes, you can find a word that’s just about exactly the same in meaning as a word in another language. Other times, the meaning is either slightly different or far enough off to result in misunderstandings.
What I realized is that when somebody says “Tesla plug,” they’re only referring to the plug that Tesla’s cars have. It means nothing more or less. But, the term “NACS” carries a totally different meaning. It’s not only Tesla’s plug, but it’s THE plug that all cars could and maybe should have. It also suggests that it’s a term bigger than the United States, like NAFTA. It suggests that some supranational entity has chosen it to be the plug for North America.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I won’t try to tell you that CCS occupies such a lofty seat, either. There’s no North American entity that can even dictate such things. In fact, the idea of a North American Union has been a popular conspiracy theory for quite a while, especially in the right-wing circles Elon Musk is now friendly with, but while “globalists” might want to implement such a union, it doesn’t exist today and may never exist. So, there’s really nobody to make it official.
I don’t bring this up out of any animosity toward Tesla or Elon Musk. I honestly think that CCS and Tesla’s plug are really on equal footing. CCS is preferred by most other automakers, and thus is preferred by CharIN (an industry entity, not a government entity). But, on the other hand, Tesla is the biggest EV automaker by far, and has basically the best fast charging network, so its choice is just as important.
However, does it even matter that there’s no standard? The heading on the next section has my answer to that.
We Don’t Even Need A Standard Plug
Ultimately, we don’t even need a charging standard! Unlike prior format wars, it’s possible to simply adapt. A VHS-to-Betamax adapter wouldn’t have worked. The same was true for 8-tracks and cassettes, and for Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD. Those standards were incompatible enough with each other that you had to choose one or the other. But the CCS, CHAdeMO, and Tesla plugs are just electrical. There are already adapters between all of them.
Perhaps more importantly, Tesla is already planning to build CCS adapters into its Supercharger stations in the form of “Magic Docks.”
So this is how Tesla will support CCS at US Superchargers.
The Magic Dock. You pull out the Tesla connector if you just need that, or the larger dock if you need CCS.
Should make retrofits a piece of cake — low capex. https://t.co/P91XOIRlH0 pic.twitter.com/3DgJpH932h
— Whole Mars Catalog (@WholeMarsBlog) January 23, 2023
So, even Tesla knows that other manufacturers aren’t going to adopt the Tesla plug. It doesn’t even think it’s the “North American Charging Standard”, so why should I call it that? Why should any of us?
The only reasonable argument I can think of for the “NACS” name is that it’s Tesla’s North American standard plug. On that count, it absolutely is. In Europe, Tesla has been forced to adopt the CCS2 plug. In China, it’s been forced to use the GB/T connector, which is even less elegant because it uses two plugs instead of just one like the CCS connector. North America is the only place where we tend to value free markets over regulation to the point where governments didn’t mandate a plug by government fiat.
But, necessity is the mother of invention. If the government won’t dictate a standard, adapters are here to make it completely unnecessary. Ultimately, all cars will be able to charge at all stations, even if it means the station needs a built-in Magic Dock, or otherwise builds in the adapter like EVgo does for Tesla’s cars.
I’m Not Sure A Future Unified Standard Will Happen, Either
We keep seeing the demand for power in charging rise and rise and rise, but there comes a point where that’s a bad idea. Making our vehicles energy hogs instead of focusing on efficiency makes them not only less environmentally friendly, but more expensive to build, charge, and operate. While people would like to see electric vehicles that charge in only five minutes, it’s really not going to be worth what that would cost to integrate into light vehicles.
Where more power will be useful is in heavier vehicles, and that’ll happen via the MCS connector. Semi trucks, and possibly future medium and one-ton trucks, will probably have an MCS plug to get the higher levels of power that will be needed to charge their truly massive battery packs in a reasonable timeframe. But will there be a Tesla car with charging over a megawatt? Probably not.
CCS is also great already, with the Kia EV6 going from 10–80% in just 18 minutes on less than 350 kW of power. That’s over 200 miles of range added to the pack in the time it takes to go pee, stretch your legs, and grab a soda. Anybody who needs faster charging also needs a catheter and probably love-triangle astronaut diapers to go more than 3 hours between charging stops.
So, absent some real need for a new plug, we probably won’t see one for quite a long time unless a truly global standard emerges that would be advantageous for companies to adopt.
Featured image by EVgo.
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