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‘Welcome to EV dongle town’

‘Welcome to EV dongle town’


Tesla is taking over electric vehicle charging in the US. So where does that leave non-Tesla EV owners like me? Juggling adapters and payment apps most likely.

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Audi E-tron charging at Tesla Supercharger
I want to be very clear: this is not my car. An Audi E-tron parked across multiple spots in order to access a Tesla Supercharger.
Image: Umar Shakir / The Verge

Earlier this year, I purchased my first electric vehicle, a 2023 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro S — moonstone gray, moon roof, all-wheel drive. I knew that the car would start losing value as soon as I drove it off the dealer lot — just like the old saying goes. What I didn’t realize was that the whole charging system that my shiny new EV relied on was about to become obsolete.

In May, Ford and Tesla announced a surprise deal in which the Blue Oval would adopt Elon Musk’s charging connector, named the North American Charging Standard (NACS). Tesla’s Supercharger network is widely considered vastly superior to the junky, bug-riddled public charging network in the US. Ford made a strategic decision to throw its lot in with the winners.

The dominoes started dropping almost immediately

The dominoes started dropping almost immediately: Ford was soon joined by General Motors, and then Rivian, Volvo, Polestar, and Mercedes-Benz. The rest of the auto industry is expected to eventually follow suit. EV charging operators like Electrify America, EVgo, and ChargePoint said they planned on adding Tesla’s connector to their hubs, most of which feature the Combined Charging System (CCS) and CHAdeMO plugs today. And the Society of Automotive Engineers said it would set about standardizing Tesla’s NACS, which should make it easier for EV charging station manufacturers and operators to adopt the connector.

Tesla, it would seem, was winning the EV charging standard war. So where does that leave chumps like me who own a non-Tesla EV with a seemingly obsolete charging port?

Adapters for everyone

First things first. I logged on to an online forum of VW ID.4 owners to see how others were taking the news. News outlets were reporting that VW was “in talks” with Tesla about adopting NACS, but there was no official announcement yet. Suffice it to say, some vehicle owners were feeling a bit crabby.

“Why all of a sudden do I feel like I own a Betamax?” one owner, who goes by AceVentura, posted on June 23rd. Alrighty then.

Others took a more measured approach. “I would not go overboard worrying at this point,” wrote Dougie01. “There will be CCS plugs for a long time. And there will be adapters.”

Tesla’s connector is slimmer than the CCS plug.
Tesla’s connector is slimmer than the CCS plug.
Image: Tesla

Truly, all the automakers that have signed on to Tesla’s NACS have plans to distribute adapters to their customers in the near term so they can begin using Tesla’s Superchargers. Distributing adapters is supposed to buy the automakers some time until they can begin manufacturing EVs with the Tesla NACS port built in.

But for safety, adapters are limited in how much voltage they can handle and tend to charge more slowly than a direct connection. Was that the future that AceVentura, Dougie01, other CCS-enabled vehicle owners, and I had in store: slowly sucking up electrons through an adapter?

“While this is obviously a bit less convenient than a direct connection, it should still work.”

“Welcome to EV dongle-town,” Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for e-mobility at Guidehouse Insights, quipped in an email. “While this is obviously a bit less convenient than a direct connection, it should still work.”

Ford CEO Jim Farley said the company will ship an NACS adapter to “everyone who’s bought a Ford EV,” promising a “super easy” process. Future Ford EVs will come equipped with NACS ports from the factory, meaning no adapter will be needed to charge at a Supercharger. Other companies have said the same.

Abuelsamid assured me that I didn’t make a bad decision when I purchased a non-Tesla EV. “Don’t sweat it,” he said. “You’ll be able to use it just fine and your experience will probably improve over time.”

Paul Waatti, an analyst at AutoPacific, agreed. “Adaptors will be crucial,” he told me, “and while there may be some slower charge rates while using them, it’s a seemingly minor inconvenience rather than a deterrent.”

CCS, the new CHAdeMO?

Of course, CCS-equipped vehicles won’t suddenly become obsolete overnight. Public EV chargers with CCS plugs will likely still exist at least into the 2030s. Take the CHAdeMO connector, for example: there are still 6,000 CHAdeMO chargers across North America, and the Nissan Leaf is effectively the only car that uses them apart from a few old Kia Souls, Mitsubishi i-MiEVs, and plug-in hybrid Outlanders.

Most EVgo and Electrify America stations still have one lonely CHAdeMO connector dangling among the CCS plugs. As new public EV charging stations get installed over time, we may start seeing fewer and fewer CCS connectors — and more and more NACS ones. Abuelsamid predicts that, by 2025, a public EV charging station with six chargers might be three NACS, two CCS, and one CHAdeMO. 

Meanwhile, home charging will remain the optimal experience for most non-Tesla EV owners, Waatti said. Just be sure to keep that adapter handy when traveling out on the open road.

Genesis GV60 charging at a Tesla Supercharger
Image: Patrick George

Payment problems

Electric vehicle charging in the US for people who own non-Tesla EVs has always been pretty fraught — hard-to-find stations, broken chargers, byzantine payment processes — but in recent months, things have gotten exponentially more confusing.

Tesla recently began opening up some of its Superchargers to non-Tesla EVs through the wonders of its own adapter, called the Magic Dock. As Patrick George wrote earlier this year, the experience is pretty seamless: pull up to the charger; pull up the Tesla app; select “Charge your non-Tesla” followed by “Unlock adapter”; and plug in.

But most everything else won’t be seamless. Superchargers have notoriously short cords, requiring some non-Tesla EV owners to park their cars at weird angles in order to get the plug to reach. (See above.)

Superchargers aren’t yet fast enough for the 800-volt systems of Hyundai and Kia electric vehicles. And some electric truck owners are likewise concerned whether Tesla’s charging stations will be able to accommodate their, shall we say, prodigiously sized vehicles.

One thing is for sure: non-Tesla EV owners will have to pay a little more than Tesla owners, but the payment is handled through the app. The company also offers a $12.99 per month subscription plan for those interested in paying a little less per kWh.

In the future, as more car companies adopt NACS, there will be a plethora of ways to pay for charging. Ford, for example, says it will offer payment through its FordPass or Ford Pro Intelligence services.

We’re trending back toward the unavoidable situation of needing multiple apps on your phone in order to charge your damn car

Tesla Superchargers do not accept payment at the stations themselves, so it seems as if we’re trending back toward the unavoidable situation of needing multiple apps on your phone in order to charge your damn car. People do not want this, and regulators definitely don’t want this, so it will be incumbent on the companies to figure out a solution that is simple and seamless. I, for one, am not optimistic we’ll get there.

“The electric vehicle market is still in its infancy and is rapidly undergoing significant revisions to original thinking,” Waatti said. “As with any new and emerging technology, early adopters agree to accept any initial pain points as the technology evolves into the mainstream and the best standards emerge.”

Pain points are to be expected. But we’ll need a lot of muscle relaxers if we’re going to push this thing over the finish line.