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Pressure Grows On Tesla To Unlock Supercharger Network In US

Will Tesla agree to open its Supercharger network to all EV drivers in order to be eligible for federal incentives? We should know soon.

Ask anyone and they will tell you that the Tesla Supercharger network is the best in the US. It has more Level 3 EV chargers than any other. They are located along major routes adjacent to businesses where travelers can get fresh food and beverages — or do a little shopping — while they replenish their batteries. With very few exceptions, they are located in well lit places where drivers can feel safe at night.

Best of all, the equipment works the first time and every time. While the internet is chock full of horror stories about broken chargers operated by other companies, or trying to get a customer service representative on the line because a charger won’t connect to a particular car, the Tesla system is seamless. Plug in, wait a few seconds (at most) for your car and the equipment to begin talking to each other, and charging begins. No muss, no fuss, no phone calls, no anxiety. Just plug in, charge, and go.

Tesla Supercharger Network Is The Gold Standard

Things don’t always go perfectly at a Supercharger location, of course, but complaints are rare. Compared to the other networks out there — all of which have well documented failure rates — the Tesla Supercharger network is the gold standard, the system all others are judged by. The rest have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Next week, the US Department of Energy will finalize the rules and regulations that will unlock $7.5 billion in federal money over the next several years to greatly expand the EV charging infrastructure in America. It’s all part of President Biden’s push to get the US to the point where half of all new light-duty vehicles sold every year are powered by batteries (or fuel cells).

Tesla would like to get some of that money. The government would like the motoring public to have access to all the lovely Supercharger equipment that all ready exists (with more coming every month). The problem, as we all know, is that almost every electric vehicle sold in America today that isn’t manufactured by Tesla uses the CCS charging standard. Tesla uses its own charging equipment and protocols.

A Tesla driver can plug into a CCS charger with an adapter and charge while on the road — assuming that person has a membership set up up in advance with whatever charging company happens to have chargers available. The reverse is not true. Despite the fact that Tesla has unlocked its Supercharger network in much of Europe and Australia, it has yet to do so for drivers in North America. The Department of Transportation (DOT) wants Tesla to install CCS charging cables on its Superchargers. Tesla is resisting doing so.

Part of it has to do with the fact that Superchargers are reserved for Tesla drivers in the US. Tesla is skittish about breaching that wall of exclusivity and worries its owners might get peevish if they have to wait for someone in an ID.4 or Rivian to finish charging ahead of them. That’s not really what people expected when they plunked down their money to buy a Tesla. Another part of it is that Tesla will have to spend quite a lot of money to convert its current equipment and would like the government to pay part of that cost.

Other Considerations

There are other issues as well. The federal dollars — like everything else the Biden administration is doing to promote a cleaner environment — are restricted to equipment manufactured in the US using mostly American-made parts and components. In addition, the manufacturing process has to pay “prevailing wages,” which means at least as much as union workers receive for doing similar work. We all know Elon’s antipathy to unions and government regulations in general. Still, $7.5 billion Benjamins can do a lot to assuage Elon’s tender sensibilities.

Reuters reports that Tesla has been in touch with the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to make suggestions about how to shape the charging program. It has also reached out to officials in Ohio, Reuters says, and in Arizona, where it has told state officials it is open to upgrading its chargers or building new ones to meet the federal requirements. “We do understand that Tesla is looking to tweak their system to be more open access. So, if they do reach that point and meet those eligibility requirements, they certainly will be eligible for funding,” Stuart Anderson, director of the Iowa Transportation development division, told Reuters. Thor Anderson, a project manager at Arizona Department of Transportation, said he had brief conversations with Tesla representatives during which they discussed Biden’s EV charger program. “They’re keeping the door open but they haven’t made a commitment,” he said on Friday.

Musk met personally with White House officials last month to discuss the charging program, White House infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu told reporters. Also note that Musk said in a July 2021 earnings call that the point of Tesla’s charging network was “not to create a walled garden and use that to bludgeon our competitors.”

Supercharger

The Department of Transportation will soon publish the final requirements that all electric vehicle chargers will have to meet in order to be eligible for funding under President Biden’s plan to electrify highways and interstates across the nation. Those requirements will also touch on cybersecurity and how much and what parts of the charger must be made in America. Any charger that wants to be eligible for federal dollars will have to meet the CCS standard once the rules are finalized next week, administration officials told Reuters.

We won’t know how Tesla plans to capture some of those federal dollars until after the new regulations are finalized, but it seems unlikely it will ignore this opportunity entirely. There’s just too much money at stake.

We’ve reached out to Tesla and Elon Musk for commentary on a few matters discussed here. We will update this article if we hear back.

 
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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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