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Tesla Has Won The Race To The Top — The Journey Was Long

Tesla has dominated among what became a formidable field of competition to lead the next generation of automobiles. The road to get there, however, was rocky at times, but the all-electric company endured.

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Tesla has won the position of top US EV manufacturer. Well, it won that title years ago, but it has reached a new level in the broader market. The results are in — after a long journey and a tight race, everyone is conceding that Tesla has won the charging race as well. Other automakers are following in lockstep years after Elon Musk first proposed that non-Tesla EVs use Tesla Superchargers. Tesla’s charging standard will be the dominant one in the US.

Last November, Tesla made the following announcement:

“In pursuit of our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, today we are opening our EV connector design to the world. We invite charging network operators and vehicle manufacturers to put the Tesla charging connector and charge port, now called the North American Charging Standard (NACS), on their equipment and vehicles. NACS is the most common charging standard in North America: NACS vehicles outnumber CCS two-to-one, and Tesla’s Supercharging network has 60% more NACS posts than all the CCS-equipped networks combined.

It is easy to forget with the many announcements this month about joining the NACS network that the automotive world wasn’t always so eager to embrace Tesla’s leadership. 

The Early Years — Tesla’s Fight to the Top

“Why should we succeed? Why wouldn’t we get steamrolled by one of the big car companies?” CEO Elon Musk asked in 2010, raising a question many analysts and industry executives were already thinking. His response was to create a startup culture in which Tesla would break industry norms, unlike top automakers, who were entrenched in an “it’s worked for us so far” culture. 

Remember those days? Musk’s vision toward a future in which every car on the road would be driven by electricity instead of fossil fuels seemed inspiring to early adopters.

Then, in 2014, the Tesla Model S became the world’s first open-source car. Musk said he was unlocking the electric car company’s patents to all interested automakers. “Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor,” Musk said, “but, rather, by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers.”

Legacy automakers generally poo-pooed the opportunity to hop on board. So Tesla barreled on. With what seemed like endless delays, the Models S and X were joined in earnest in 2018 by the Model 3 sedan — its smaller overall vehicle footprint needed less power to move the same distance as the Model S, thus requiring fewer batteries, cutting even more weight.

Still, SUV sales have easily outperformed sales of sedans in recent years, so the Model 3 met the needs of a limited additional audience to the Tesla family. When the Model Y was released, the crossover was even more widely accepted. Since then, it has exceeded expectations, especially when 2023 price adjustments became common knowledge. According to Kelley Blue Book data, Tesla’s Model Y came in cheaper than the average new vehicle sold in the US in the first quarter. 

Even then, many people were wondering if the company had misfired. The word “lost” in its various derivations was popular in the press to describe the Tesla trajectory. Tesla had “lost spark” among favorite brands, was “losing world’s biggest electric car maker crown.” In January of this year, the company had lost $700 billion in value. It had “lost the race for affordable EVs” and was “dangerously” losing its luster.

Partially, those condemnations were due to Musk’s pattern of self-destructive and company-destructive misbehavior (see here, here, and here). Also, with disappointments in full self-driving or robotaxi progress and the delayed release of the Cybertruck, Tesla seemed to be falling off its pinnacle standing of the best and brightest. The vision of the 3 Tesla Master Plans seemed to be frail. During the May 2023 Annual Shareholder Meeting, Musk teased a future Tesla model that would be compact and modestly priced, but the balloon of excitement was deflated with Musk’s general plan descriptions rather than specific production milestones.

Investors Suddenly Beam at Tesla’s Tenacity

Yet an amazing turn of events has taken place over the past two weeks. General Motors and Ford will adopt Tesla’s North American charging plug standard. Both legacy automakers will be able to give their EV buyers access to the Tesla Supercharger network under a mutual agreement. Tesla Superchargers account for about 60% of the total fast chargers in the US and Canada, according to US Department of Energy data, making the network too appealing to pass up.

Investors shouted with joy as GM shares rose more than 4% the day of the announcement, and Tesla shares gained 4%. Shares of charging companies ChargePoint and EVgo were both down more than 4% in after-hours trading the same day.

A whole lot of behind-the-scenes negotiating clearly had taken place to bring Ford and GM to the moment in time in which they could say with certainty that their customers would be able to use Tesla’s network of 12,000 Superchargers with an addition of an adapter. The agreement seems to indicate that these non-Tesla consumers will pay competitive rates for electricity at Tesla Superchargers.

Clearly, having a North American charging standard in future EVs will make charging easier and more accessible for consumers. Their frustration at repeatedly finding broken public chargers has been palatable. Add into that the desire for more chargers — a survey this spring found that about three-quarters say too few charging stations is a reason they wouldn’t go electric, including half who call it a major reason.

But Tesla has won a most formidable competition to lead the next generation of autos. As CleanTechnica’s own inimitable Steve Hanley proposes, with Ford and GM now solidly in the NACS camp, that will put pressure on other EV manufacturers like Stellantis, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Hyundai, Kia, and others to adopt the Tesla technology in North America.

Final Thoughts

Musk noted during the GM/Tesla joint NACS press conference that Tesla owners will not be given priority to the company’s chargers, calling access “an even playing field” for all EV owners. “The most important thing is that we’ve witnessed the electric vehicle revolution.”

The broad strokes of that revolution have largely been dictated by Tesla. The benefits of doing so exceed the goodwill that the company gains by its largess — by opening its growing network to other car brands, the company will qualify for EV charging tax credits under the 2021 infrastructure law. 

Tesla’s advantage in domestic EV and battery production will continue to expand, in all likelihood boosting its dominating 61% share of total US EV sales alongside greater profitability. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg states that the industry will eventually converge on one system but that adapters would allow cross-usage. Yesterday, EVgo announced that the company will be adding NACS connectors to its fast charging network across the country following the recent announcements by Ford and General Motors. ChargePoint also just made a similar announcement.

The list gets longer everyday.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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