Is NACS As A Standard In Peril? Probably Not.

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A few days ago, Tesla shocked the charging world when Elon decided to fire the whole Supercharger development team. These weren’t the people who maintain existing sites (thank goodness!), but they are the people who found places to put chargers in, designed the plans for the site, dealt with utilities, hired contractors, and did everything else it took to grow and upgrade the network.

Multiple outlets have reported that contractors (those in charge of building the sites) received the following letter after the mass firing:

To all concerned:

You may be aware that there has been a recent adjustment with the Supercharger organization which is presently undergoing a sudden and thorough restructuring. If you have already received this email, please disregard it as we are attempting to connect with our suppliers and contractors. As part of this process, we are in the midst of establishing new leadership roles, prioritizing projects, and streamlining our payment procedures. Due to the transitional nature of this phase, we are asking for your patience with our response time.

I understand that this period of change may be challenging and that patience is not easy when expecting to be paid, however, I want to express my sincere appreciation for your understanding and support as we navigate through this transition. At this time, please hold on breaking ground on any newly awarded construction projects and planned pre-construction walks. If currently working on an active Supercharging construction site, please continue. Contact [email redacted] for further questions, comments, and concerns. Additionally, hold on working on any new material orders. Contact [email redacted] for further questions, comments, and concerns. If waiting on delayed payment, please contact [email redacted] for a status update. Thank you for your cooperation and patience.

The big takeaway people are getting is that this wasn’t a thought-out plan made and executed with care. The sudden firing of a whole team left a lot of pieces for people to pick up and left a lot of people in the “cybernetic collective” Tesla has built disconnected from the process.

Sadly, this mass layoff/firing also includes the people who were in charge of opening the network up to vehicles from other manufacturers. For Ford and Rivian vehicles, the job is already done and everyone is able to charge, but other brands of vehicles haven’t been added yet. According to the Out of Spec YouTube Channel’s Kyle Conner, this chaos and likely delay in performing on supercharger access agreements has spooked executives at other automakers:

The worst news is that some of them have told him that they’re considering backing out if Tesla can’t perform and live up to the deals already made due to this mass firing. This news, combined with what was obviously a reckless move by Elon Musk at 3 AM, has shaken many people’s faith in the company.

Why This Probably Won’t Make Automakers Go Back To CCS1 For Future Cars

What we don’t know at this point is what the exact points were in the deal between Tesla and each of the other automakers. It could be that they were already behind on delivering access as promised (and paid for) with some of them. It could also be that some of the automakers weren’t promised access for months or longer. As I speculate further, keep that in mind.

I have two reasons that I am not worried about it.

First off, there’s probably time to deliver and keep other automakers on the NACS bandwagon. For any automakers that they’re not late delivering to, there’s obviously time to get the effort going again. For those that are already behind or will soon be behind, there’s also great public pressure to keep Supercharger access going. At this point, any automaker who backs out would put themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage, so they have more ability to wait than it may appear.

The amount of strategic patience different automakers have for this isn’t infinite, but they likely won’t back out for at least several months.

The second reason I’m not worried is that nobody wants to go first. If a critical mass of automakers could coordinate behind to scenes to back out of the deal together, the transition to NACS could unravel. But, just as there was a dam holding things back to Ford broke, there’s no a dam holding a company back from doing it alone. Backing out from Supercharger access, even if delayed, would also require such a consortium to make a serious charging announcement of some kind to make up for it, and they aren’t ready to do that.

The Good Outcome That Probably Wasn’t Planned For

Given the chaos and 52 Pickup card game we’re seeing Tesla play right now, I seriously doubt that this was part of some grand plan that was thought out. So, no, I’m not going to do the “masterful gambit, sir” or 4D chess nonsense.

This was likely done on a whim at 3:00 AM for reasons we won’t know for some time (if ever). But, some serious good will probably come out of this as the rest of the industry moves in to pick up the slack Tesla has left.

No matter how good a company is, monopolies have never served the customer well historically. Without pressure to compete and pressure to keep prices down, the result is usually stagnation and high prices. Even if Elon Musk is the god-like figure incapable of error that some people think he is, and he’d never take advantage of a charging near-monopoly, the guy can’t run Tesla forever. So, at some point, pressure would be there to abuse that kind of power.

The other issue is regulatory. If Tesla dominates the charging market and investors are too afraid to adequately fund competing networks, there would come a point where antitrust laws become an issue. As with Ma Bell, Tesla could suffer being broken up into “Baby Teslas” or be forced to invest in competition the way Microsoft was.

Again, I don’t think it was planned for, but everyone will probably be better off after Tesla’s bad step here. A healthy and diverse charging market is what everyone needs, and that network will likely migrate to NACS for both cars and chargers over time.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba