If you are old enough, you remember the battle between Betamax and VHS video recording standards. Betamax was higher quality, but VHS won. Now we have the battle between Blue Ray disks and streaming, with streaming becoming more dominant by the day. We had recordable disks for saving data, but are now left only with thumb drives. Even though there are 3 competing EV charging standards in use today in North America, we now see the path clear to a dominant North American Charging Standard (NACS) charging standard and virtually all electric vehicles able to use that standard.
I drove Nissan LEAFs, which use the CHAdeMO L3 fast charging standard, for 6 years, so I know what it’s like to have very few places to fast charge your EV. Tesla has paid for and installed on its own dime its marvelous, ubiquitous Supercharging network (now called NACS) that uses a very compact plug. But only Teslas can use it now. For the last 3 years and 8 months, I have been driving cross country in my Tesla Model 3 without a bit of concern about finding Superchargers on my route. Every other manufacturer had agreed to use the CCS charging system. I would have thought there was no chance in hell that the so called “North American Charging Standard” would actually become a charging standard, to say nothing of becoming the totally dominant charging standard.
Why has NACS become the dominant EV charging standard? Tesla has installed Superchargers, usually with 8 or more stalls (charging plugs), every 70 to 120 miles on practically every Interstate highway in the US. Not only that, but Tesla has increased the number of charging stalls as needed — in some cases, to more than 100, such as certain high-traffic locations in California where Tesla EVs have become commonplace.
Let’s compare the difference between Superchargers and CCS chargers in a few locations. Interstate 80 (I-80) is one of the most traveled cross-country routes in the US. Through Wyoming, it closely follows the route of the first transcontinental railroad since it is almost mountain-less there, especially compared to the I-70 Interstate route through Colorado. Since 2017, there have been 5 Tesla NACS Superchargers in Wyoming at intervals of about 100 miles. Six years later, in 2023, there are only 3 CCS charging stations, with distances of about 200 miles between them, in Wyoming. The CCS station in Pine Bluffs on the eastern border of Wyoming has only one stall. The distance between Pine Bluffs and the Rawlins CCS charger on I-80 is 189 miles. From Rawlins to the CCS charger on I-80 in Evanston, the distance is 209 miles. Bottom line: Without a very long-range EV, you can’t cross Wyoming on I-80 in a CCS car even today. Tesla built the Superchargers on I-94 through North Dakota and Montana in 2020. CCS chargers on I-94 through Montana are mainly under construction. Tesla completed the trans-Canadian highway route of Superchargers in 2021, so you have been able to drive it with no worries for the last 2 years. Driving the trans-Canadian highway in a CCS-standard EV today looks possible based on the stations listed in PlugShare. I would need to hear from readers as to how practical CCS driving on that route is today. At this point, there are 12,000 NACS (Tesla) L3 DC Superchargers in North America. With an average of 8 stalls per Supercharger, that makes about 100,000 stalls available.
Driving in a Tesla, a touch of the screen gives you all the nearby Superchargers. A touch on the Supercharger you choose puts it in the navigation. As you approach the Supercharger, your car preconditions the battery for faster charging. When you arrive, you back into a stall, open your charge port, and plug the small plug into your charge port. The charge is automatically initiated and it automatically bills the credit card you have established with Tesla. You don’t have this kind of convenience and automation driving a CCS car.
Also, the reliability of the Tesla Supercharger system is unparalleled. In 3 years and 8 months on 9 cross-country trips, I have never seen a Supercharger out of service and have never had to wait more than a few minutes for an empty stall. On a cross-country trip, you arrive at a charger usually at a very low level of charge. You could have remaining range of only 10 to 15 miles. If the charger you plan to use is out of service, you are screwed. If you can even reach a nearby L2 charger, you will probably be facing a 6-hour charge or so. If there are other drivers also looking for a place to charge, you will be completely out of luck. At that point, you would be facing a L1 charge which would take a day or two to complete. Hopefully, your primary charger would be repaired in the meantime, but your need for a tow truck would be likely and a hotel or camping stay would be mandatory.
Note: L3 DC fast chargers are the only chargers that are really fast enough to be useful during the day for cross-country road trips. However, as of May 2023, Tesla also has agreements with some 3,941 hotels where they have installed L2 Destination Chargers. On a cross-country trip of multiple days, Destination Chargers will save you stopping for one charge each day. You pull up to the hotel, plug into the L2 Destination Charger, and by the time you leave the next morning, you have a full charge. Hopefully, Destination Chargers will soon become as common as Internet as a service provided by all hotels.
A year ago, the only EV company planning to use the NACS besides Tesla was Aptera, and Aptera hasn’t sold any cars yet.
Then, a few months ago, Ford announced that it was planning on using the NACS standard. Then the dam broke and GM also planned to use the NACS standard and then one company after another joined in. The companies listed below are planning on enabling their cars to use NACS Superchargers with an adapter next year (2024), and to manufacture their cars with a native NACS port starting in 2025.
Manufacturers planning to use the NACS so far:
With these commitments and the momentum gained with over 75% of EVs already planning to use the NACS, it’s hard to imagine any EV manufacturer that won’t commit to the NACS soon.
Not only are EV manufactures lining up to use the NACS, but numerous charging station manufacturers and networks are planning on adding NACS plugs to their charging stations.
Charging station manufacturers and networks planning on adding NACS plug to their chargers:
- Electrify America (this is big since EA has the second most fast charging stations in the US after Tesla, with 822 DC L3 chargers and 3,592 stalls)
- ABB E-Mobility
- SK Signet
Note: Ford has 12,000 charging stations with 35,000 stalls. However, these are only L2 AC chargers. As Ford switches to the NACS, one would expect eventually all of these stalls will have NACS plugs.
In addition, some states have passed laws or are on the verge of passing laws that require charging companies to include NACS plugs on any chargers that receive government subsidies.
What will be the next manufacturer to commit to Tesla’s NACS? Will it by Volkswagen, which has built the Electrify America CCS network, or the Stellantis umbrella company the makes Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, and Ram vehicles, among others.
If you are driving a recent Tesla, you have the best of both worlds: 1) you have native access to Tesla’s superb Supercharger network. 2) Also, for $100 or so, you can buy a CCS-to-NACS adapter which allows you to access all CCS charging stations. Some older Teslas can be retrofitted to use the adapters, but the last time I checked for my 2019 Model 3, the retrofit was only available for Model S and X.
Tesla has equipped a handful of Superchargers with its “Magic Dock” which allows some CCS cars to charge. Otherwise, the owners of the non-Tesla brands listed above will need to wait until next year before they can charge at Superchargers with an adapter.
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