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SAE To Standardize NACS Connector As EV Charging Tide Turns Toward Tesla

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Ford started it last month when it announced it would install charging sockets in its electric cars that conform to the Tesla charging standard commonly known as the North American Charging Standard. General Motors swiftly climbed aboard the NACS bus, and then charging companies like Electrify America announced they will be adding NACS plugs to their chargers as well. Then this week, Volvo said it also would begin using the NACS standard for the electric cars it sells in North America.

NACS & Standards

CleanTechnica readers are well informed about the topic. We have been watching as the CHAdeMO vs CCS battle played out in North America over the past several years (CCS won). And we have wondered aloud on several occasions why America needed two charging standards — CCS and Tesla. From the point of view of drivers, it made little sense. It was like requiring two different shaped nozzles on the end of the hoses at gas pumps — one for Brand T and another for everyone else.

In particular, the plug Tesla came up with was small, light, durable, and elegantly styled. In comparison, the CCS-1 plug was clunky, heavy, and fragile. Why not just use the Tesla plug? The reasons are historical and much of it involves the “Not invented here” mindset that is common in business.

Tesla was the upstart. It offered its charging standard to others (there were some strings attached) when it was a fledgling company. That was before it started selling a significant number of cars and the major automakers and parts suppliers considered it a flash in the pan that would soon disappear. Who were these upstarts to tell us how to do things? Of course, the wheel has turned, and now Tesla is king of the hill when it comes to making and selling electric cars.

The trigger that seems to have set this whole chain of events in motion is the Inflation Reduction Act and the other clean transport policies promoted by the Biden administration. Suddenly there is a giant pool of money available to get EV chargers installed all across America in order to move the EV revolution forward as quickly as possible. Money talks and so the rather dull discussion about NACS vs CCS-1 suddenly took on a much greater significance.

Standards are vital to business. Imagine if some lumber company decided to make studs that were 3X5 inches instead of 2X4 inches. Building codes would need to be revised, building supply houses would need to stock two different sizes of studs, and architects would need to re-calibrate their CAD/CAM devices. The cost of doing business would go up while productivity would go down.

In the automotive field, the Society of Automotive Engineers, popularly known as SAE, is the organization that is primarily responsible for setting standards for the industry. Until now, it has championed the CCS-1 standard, but on July 27 it announced it was moving forward with creating a standard for the NACS system.

Here is what SAE International had to say:

SAE International today announced it will standardize the Tesla-developed North American Charging Standard (NACS) connector. This will ensure that any supplier or manufacturer will be able to use, manufacture, or deploy the NACS connector on electric vehicles (EVs) and at charging stations across North America. Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Rivian, and a number of EV charging companies recently announced plans to adopt the NACS connector through adaptors or future product offerings.

The standardization process is the next step to establish a consensus-based approach for maintaining NACS and validating its ability to meet performance and interoperability criteria. The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation was instrumental in fostering the SAE-Tesla partnership and expediting plans to standardize NACS—an important step in building an interoperable national charging network that will work for all EV drivers. This initiative was also announced by The White House today.

“Standardizing the NACS connector will provide certainty, expanded choice, reliability and convenience to manufacturers and suppliers and, most of all, increase access to charging for consumers,” said Frank Menchaca, President, Sustainable Mobility Solutions, an innovation arm of SAE affiliate, Fullsight, which focuses on initiatives that lead to net zero transportation throughout mobility sectors.

The new SAE NACS connector standard will be developed on an expedited timeframe and is one of several key initiatives to strengthen the North American EV charging infrastructure. This includes SAE-ITC’s Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) for cyber-secure charging. In close cooperation with National Labs, SAE also is contributing to reliability design for the national ChargeX consortium.

“Taken together,” said David L. Schutt, CEO, SAE International, “these efforts will contribute substantially to SAE’s commitment to secure, clean and connected transportation, accessible to everyone. We’re delighted to do our part in aligning the excellent efforts of industry with those of government entities like the Joint Office to advance sustainable mobility on a national level.”

The White House Response


A diagram representing the relative size difference between charge port connectors: CCS (left), CHAdeMO (middle), and Tesla NACS (right). Credit:

In a Fact Sheet issued by the White House on the same day as the SAE statement, the Biden administration said:

“The Administration (has) set new national standards for Federally-funded EV chargers, including NEVI-funded chargers. The minimum standards set a baseline to ensure the national EV charging network is interoperable between different charging companies, with similar payment systems, pricing information, and charging speeds. This protects the traveling public by ensuring a predictable and reliable EV charging experience — no matter what car you drive or where you charge.

“The minimum standards allow flexibility to support industry innovation in this evolving field and to allow States, communities, and their partners to build charging infrastructure that meets local needs. For example, Federally-funded fast chargers are required to include Combined Charging System (CCS) connectors, which are used by the majority of automakers today, but may also offer other connector types such as the North American Charging Standard (NACS) developed by Tesla. Several states, such as Texas and Washington, have already signaled their intent to require both CCS and NACS connector types on their NEVI-funded charging networks.

“President Biden’s goal is to build out the national network of EV chargers as quickly as possible while ensuring that Federal investment continues to support a reliable, convenient, and user-friendly charging experience. The Administration is working to support even greater interoperability within the NEVI program, tasking experts across the Federal government to work closely with States, localities, labor, automakers, charger manufacturers, and standards setting bodies to achieve this goal.

“As part of this work, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) announced today that they will initiate an expedited process to review NACS as a potential public standard. This would open the NACS connector to other suppliers and manufacturers and has the potential to dramatically increase the size, reliability, and availability of an interoperable charging network supported by industry recognized standards. That’s a win for the EV charging industry and a win for all EV drivers.”

The Takeaway

Chevy Bolt

Photo by Steve Hanley for CleanTechnica. All rights reserved.

My wife and I recently purchased a used Chevy Bolt. Our Tesla tells us where to find Superchargers while we drive, but the Bolt does not. And so we have had to familiarize ourselves with what other non-Tesla drivers have been experiencing for years. People complain all the time about how long it takes to charge an electric car, but what really bugs people is not knowing where they will find a charger, whether it will be working when they get there, and how to pay for their charging session.

That’s where the move toward one standard will pay big dividends. The main thing needed to move the EV revolution forward is to take away the fear people have that they won’t be able to plug in when they need to and will wind up with their shiny new EV on a tilt truck because it has run out of battery charge. I never had that feeling with my Tesla, but it reared its ugly head as soon as the Bolt arrived in my driveway.

I have since learned that there are actually chargers out there and that PlugShare and other apps do a pretty good job of identifying where to find them. But knowing there is a uniform standard coming will go a long way toward dispelling the lingering fear people have about driving an electric car. Getting the SAE on board is a big step forward on the journey toward electric transportation.

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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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