More Automakers Are Adopting Tesla's EV Charger. But the Competition Won't Go Quietly
Nearly a century and a half after Nikola Tesla won the current wars, the EV automaker that bears his name is on track to win the charging wars.
Dan AveryFormer Writer
Dan was a writer on CNET's How-To and Thought Leadership teams. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Architectural Digest and elsewhere. He is a crossword junkie and is interested in the intersection of tech and marginalized communities.
ExpertisePersonal finance, government and policy, consumer affairs
Nissan is the latest EV manufacturer to announce it's adopting Tesla's North American Charging Standard connectors, following similar moves by Volvo, Ford, GM and other carmakers.
Beginning in 2024, Nissan will provide a NACS adapter for the Ariya, its first electric SUV. The following year, Nissan EVs in the US and Canada will come with a NACS port, so owners can plug directly in to Tesla Superchargers.
"We are happy to provide access to thousands more fast chargers for Nissan EV drivers, adding confidence and convenience when planning long-distance journeys," Nissan Americas chair Jérémie Papin said in a July 19 statement.
Tesla's once-proprietary charging architecture has been on a winning streak this summer: On June 30, Kentucky started requiring charging companies to include NACS connectors if they wanted in on federally funded contracts to electrify state highways. Both Texas and Washington state indicated earlier in the month that they intend to issue similar mandates.
"Having the most common connectors available at each charging station will provide more options for EV drivers," Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson Julien Devereux told CNET. Electrify America, the largest direct current fast-charging network in the US, announced on June 29 that it would add NACS connections to all its stations within the next two years.
NACS is also getting a welcoming nod from SAE International, which works with government agencies to establish interoperability and performance protocols in the transportation sector. In June, the organization announced it was expediting a review of Tesla's charger as a potential industry standard. The problem is that NACS isn't the only EV charging standard out there.
Aside from Teslas, all EVs in the US today use Combined Charging System (CCS) connectors, devised by the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN), a consortium of European automakers. The Biden administration has lobbied for CCS connections to be the industry go-to, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law still requires CCS plugs at charging stations receiving federal funding. (In Texas, each DC fast-charging port will have one CCS connector and one NACS connector. )
Using a connection that doesn't pair with your car requires a converter, and sometimes additional hardware. But convenience isn't the only issue: In the long run, experts say, the cost of maintaining two industry standards will be borne by consumers.
Tesla introduced NACS technology in 2012 and made it available to other manufacturers in 2022. This year, the company started allowing non-Tesla EVs to access many of its more than 19,000 Superchargers, which use DC fast charging and can fully recharge a battery in under an hour.
While the science behind CCS and NACS plugs is similar, "the physical connector is quite different," said Arcardy Sosinov, founder and CEO of charging technology firm Freewire. "NACS is lighter, smaller and easier to handle."
President Biden has made electrifying America's roads a priority in his first term. The bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed in 2021 set aside $5 billion to help states build a robust EV charging infrastructure.
In May, the White House announced the creation of the National Charging Experience Consortium, tasked with overseeing payment processing, data sharing and, yes, vehicle-charger communication.
"The EV revolution is well underway, and this funding will help to ensure that every American can access the benefits and count on a reliable EV charging network across the country," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.
But having competing standards is a real obstacle to achieving that goal, Sosinov said. And while NACS is clearly taking the lead, he added, it'll be at least several years before CCS disappears.
"There's a lot of cars on the road right now with CCS plugs. And all the EVs that will come out in the next year," Sosinov told CNET. "That's more than a million automobiles."
The road to a single EV charging standard
Tesla, which no longer operates a public relations department, did not respond to a request for comment.
CharIN, which established the CCS standard, also didn't respond to an inquiry. But in a June 12 statement, the organization acknowledged that, given how many stakeholders are adopting it, NACS needs to be reviewed by standards bodies.
"Customers and the EV industry need trustworthy open charging standards to ensure confidence in the availability, reliability, safety, and adaptability of the standard over time," the group said.
In the same statement, CharIN reiterated that CCS is "the global standard" for charging technology and that it's "future-proofed to support many other use cases beyond public DC fast charging."
CharIN isn't the only interested party trying to slow the advance of NACS. In a letter to the Texas Transportation Commission, a group of EV charging companies called the state's plan for Tesla-brand connections "premature," Reuters reported.
"Time is needed to properly standardize, test, and certify the safety and interoperability of Tesla connectors across the industry," said the group, which included charging station operator ChargePoint and manufacturer ABB.
The enthusiasm for NACS is good news for both the industry and consumers, Sosinov said, but the involvement of SAE isn't.
"Once a standards body gets involved, all the [manufacturers] are going to ask for their own considerations," he said. "There will be too many cooks in the kitchen and it will only dilute the next connector and plug."
It will also increase costs, Sosinov added.
"You have two plugs, two chargers, two standards," he said. "My costs to get certification will be higher, which will be borne by people who buy my chargers -- the convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants. And they'll pass it on to the consumer."