How Tesla will open up its Superchargers to other EVs

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has, for years, talked about opening up his company’s vast Supercharger network to other electric vehicles. But earlier this month, Musk tweeted that Tesla plans to do this “later this year,” and this week, he finally offered some details about how it might work.

It will be “real simple,” Musk claimed on an investor call Monday. Owners of other EVs will be able to charge at a Supercharger station by using the Tesla app — which, right now, is geared toward people who’ve purchased the company’s products. That’s about all Tesla will have to do to make this possible in Europe and China, where there are standardized charging cable connectors, Musk said. (Tesla has already committed to opening up the network in Norway.)

But Tesla has a proprietary connector in North America, so non-Tesla vehicles here will need an adapter. That could be up to the other automakers to make; Musk has previously said that Tesla has held talks with other automakers about sharing costs in order to open up the Supercharger network, and in 2018, he said competitors would have to be “able to accept our charge rate and our connector, at least have an adapter to our connector.” Tesla may still make its own, as Musk said he anticipates making them available at Supercharger stations as long as “people don’t sort of steal them or something.” (Tesla energy lead Drew Baglino assured his boss on the call that his team “has a good solution for that.”)

This adapter would likely have to be certified (something typically done by third parties like UL) and some basic software written to handle the “handshake” that happens between a car and the charger before electrons start flowing.

If Tesla allows other electric vehicles to charge on the Supercharger network, it could be a big boost for the nascent — but growing — EV market. The company has already built out almost 3,000 stations and nearly 27,000 connectors worldwide, which can charge at faster rates than most other networks.

Plenty of already-open charging networks like EVgo, ChargePoint, and Blink have recently gone public and plan to use much of that fresh funding to expand their networks. But unlocking the Supercharger network to owners of other EVs could more immediately help alleviate the twin headaches of finding available (and working) chargers and time spent charging.

It could be a financial boon for Tesla, too, as Baglino said on an investor call Monday. “Increasing the utilization of the network actually reduces our costs, which allows us to lower charging prices for all customers, makes the network more profitable, allows us to grow the network faster. That’s a good thing there,” he said. Something that went unsaid: the possibility that opening up the network could make Tesla’s superchargers more appealing to government subsidy programs. (President Biden has said he wants to build 500,000 charging stations as part of a $15 billion investment in the technology.)

There is at least one big potential hangup for this plan, though: capacity — not the energy kind, but the how-crowded-will-Superchargers-get kind.

As Tesla’s vehicles become more popular, Supercharger stations in some big cities have gotten crowded. In some respect, that’s good for Tesla — hanging out at Superchargers while you charge is a great way to meet other potentially like-minded Tesla owners, which, in turn, helps grow the company’s legion of devotees. But waiting in line only to then wait again while you charge is a drag, and things will only get more crowded if Tesla opens up the Supercharger network to other EVs.

To solve this, Musk said Tesla may play with dynamic pricing. For instance, the company could jack up prices if your EV charges at a slower rate than a Tesla because, as Musk said Monday, the “biggest constraint at Superchargers is time.”

The bigger blocker, Musk said, is that Tesla is making cars at a faster rate than it’s building new Supercharger stations. Opening the network is “only useful to the public if we’re able to [build Superchargers] faster than Tesla vehicle output,” he said. “So this is a lot of work for the Supercharger team.”

Access to a large, exclusive network of fast charging stations has long been one of the selling points of buying a Tesla, which could make this transition a tricky one, according to Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com. “Elon will have to balance his desire to widen EV charging access — and increase Tesla’s revenue — with keeping his owner body happy,” Brauer said in an email to The Verge. “That may be a bridge too far, even for Elon.”

But opening up the network could also be a powerful marketing tool for a company that famously doesn’t spend money on traditional advertising, Autotrader executive editor Brian Moody said via email.

“The smart thing about this idea is that it gradually exposes motorists, especially those who are already interested in EVs, to the Tesla brand. I bet it leads to more Tesla buyers long term,” Moody wrote.

As much as an exclusive Supercharger network has been a selling point for Tesla, Musk maintained on Monday that he always hoped to open it up to other electric vehicles — and took a shot at another Silicon Valley giant in the process. “Our goal is to support the advent of sustainable energy. It is not to create a walled garden and use that to bludgeon our competitors, which is sometimes used by some company,” he said, before fake coughing and adding: “Apple.”

It’s something that those other charging networks have also anticipated. In a recent financial filing, EVgo admitted that Tesla opening up its Supercharger network “could further reduce demand for charging at our sites.”

Comments

I’m sure he thinks it’s simple because he’s not the one doing the work. In reality, is it ever so simple?

Tell me so, tesla fanbois.

I’d imagine he has the opinion that it would be simple because there are already adapters that convert the standard j1772 connector seen in most cars to Tesla’s proprietary charger and vice versa.

All that is left is to set up a way to pay for it. Which I imagine could be as hard as downloading their app and then setting up an account like you would as if you were being a Tesla.

I’m cool with you hating on Musk, he says some dumb stuff, this really doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for Tesla at all at this point.

I drive a Volt so I don’t generally bother stopping at places to charge but this is good for the electric car industry over all.

there are already adapters that convert the standard j1772 connector seen in most cars to Tesla’s proprietary charger and vice versa.

They come free with every Tesla and you can buy extras for $95

https://shop.tesla.com/product/sae-j1772-charging-adapter

Tesla is great when it comes to charging, an area other manufacturers really lack in. Their Gen2 Mobile Connector costs less than almost every other charger out there and supports L1 and L2 charging.

https://shop.tesla.com/product/gen-2-mobile-connector-bundle

And you can cheaply purchase adapters for almost every socket out there. In North America ithe Gen2 charger included with your car purchase and comes with 2 adapters. One is the standard 120v 15a (Nema 5-15) and the other is 240v 50a (Nema 14-50).

https://shop.tesla.com/product/gen-2-nema-adapters

So if you have a Nema 14-50 in your garage (all new homes in CA require it) then you literally need to spend no extra money to do L2 charging at home. Other EV manufacturers require you to purchase an EVSE.

Kinda shitty that the Gen2 charger in their store doesn’t come with the Nema 14-50 but for the $45 extra it costs, that’s still cheaper than most 50 amp EVSEs you can buy.

If Tesla were to make a Tesla to J1772 adapter then you could purchase the Tesla charging equipment cheapr than most other 50 amp EVSE solutions out there.

My level 2 charger I bought for my C-Max Energi was $180. It’s been sitting outside in the weather for 4 years. Granted, it’s only 16A, but I get a full charge in about 2 hours.
Since it’s a PHEV, it really doesn’t matter when traveling. I’ll take the level 1 with me and charge overnight at the hotel.

Using that charger it would take about 28 hours to charge a Tesla Model 3 LR. Tesla’s Gen2 charger can do the same in about 11 hours.

So that’s not even close to comparable. Your charger also doesn’t have the adapter modularity to use any available power outlet.

28 hours is enough for your average US driver, given how many miles we drive a day.

I have to ask…is Tesla’s J1722 adapter actually any good? Not flaming, but I’ve noticed frequently Tesla’s parked in normal spots with public level 2 chargers vacant. I’ve also found level 2 chargers rendered useless because a Tesla adapter had gotten jammed on there and I could not for the life of me pry it off.

Maybe it’s just a different mentality but I always take an open charger whenever I can find one, and many Tesla drivers seemingly don’t. My theory was maybe the adapter is a hassle,but please let me know if I’m wrong.

IMO, the j1772 adapter is basically effortless. The insertion effort is low and it is really lightweight and small enough to store somewhere very accessible.

Having said that, range on Teslas is really good and L2 often doesn’t add enough range to be worth it IMO, especially if I have to fiddle with an app. The apps and chargers themselves are the fidgety part in my experience.

…range on Teslas is really good and L2 often doesn’t add enough range to be worth it IMO

That’s been my experience. I used one once with my Model 3 while grocery shopping and when finished it had put on 20 miles which I guess was a net sum gain but it just seemed more hassle than it was worth.

If it had been my Leaf though I’d have a spring in my step.

Most Tesla drivers don’t bother to charge anywhere but at home or at Tesla Superchargers on road trips. Why waste their time when they don’t need to?

I’ve never had issues with using my Tesla J1772 adapter… it’s been easier to get on and off and plug in… the one mistake you can make it to leave the adapter on the third-party charging plug and drive-away.

I say this with the caveat that I’ve only used the J1772 a dozen or so times in 4 years and at only one specific location (rotated between 4 stalls/plugs though) – a corporate office I was visiting regularly that offer free/open charging… and as people said, I didn’t even do it for the charging really. Mostly it was to get the more convenient parking spot next to the lobby.

Otherwise, I would have parked next to the spot and left the charger spot vacant for someone else who really needed to charge… like other people mentioned… I really only charge at home or at a Supercharger location.

L2 charging is not a solution for "the charging problem" of EVs in the US. It’s not for gassing up the car when you’re going a long way. At best you use it overnight when stopping at a hotel or something.

I drive an EV, I get that L2 is slower than DC. I do both regularly. But the existence of DC does not prevent me from also using available L2 whenever it is where I’m going.

Good for you. But I think the thought process that drives "the charging problem" of EVs is something like 75% fast charging and 25% L2. People who don’t have a garage for their cars will need L2 infrastructure that’s publicly available. It still doesn’t address range anxiety from people switching over from ICE cars.

I don’t see how it can be as easy as he says. Doesn’t the car need to communicate with the charger to control how much power is transferring? Maybe the J1772 and the Tesla connectors already use the same protocol?

Yes, and all modern EVs do this—every EV that supports DC fast charging will have some way to talk to the charger. It becomes how this digital signal can be passed to the supercharger.

I drive a non Tesla EV. About half a mile from my office there’s a set of ~ 10 superchargers. I’ve never seen more than 3 or 4 cars using them. Usually there are none. I would be thrilled to pay a reasonable charge for access.

Just as building and operating a gas station is a viable business, the most important thing is that EV charging "in the wild" needs to have a viable business model. If Blink et al can figure out how to make a profit for themselves and their customers (the places where the chargers are located), then the Tesla network won’t be "the only game in town".

Actually selling gas is typically not a viable business in itself… in reality the gas pumps are only useful in bringing customers to the adjacent "convenience store" so they can buy cigarettes, drinks, snack from you and that’s where gas stations make their profit.

Similarly, Tesla didn’t looking to make Supercharger their own viable business – so they don’t need to make a profit selling electricity… as they main goal of the Supercharger network has get people to buy Tesla cars.

For EV chargers in general, it is a a little bit of a chicken and the egg problem. There need to be enough BEV owners in the world to justify business to buy/install EV chargers as a way to attract affluent customers (kind of like the new "free validated parking"), but for that to happen there needs to be enough non-Tesla BEVs on the road… but there won’t be many non-Tesla BEV if there aren’t a lot of EV chargers available. Aside from time… the other possible solution is government incentive/tax breaks for business that install EV chargers much like the how the federal EV tax credit worked to encouraging people to buy BEVs. With that everyone wins in the end, imo.

The crazy thing is that people charging their EVs are a captive audience for 15-60 minutes. Restaurants and convenience stores could setup fast/easy/reliable/cheap chargers and have customers.

We stopped at a Tesla Supercharger in an In-N-Out parking lot on the way to Joshua Tree, guess what we had for lunch?

One of the nice things about Tesla Superchargers is that they just work. You plug your car in and that’s it, the car negotiates and pays for it. ChargePoint is by far the easiest other charge network, frankly all the reset really suck compared to ChargePoint, and still ChargePoint is not perfect but you can use a phone or RFID card to authenticate and charge.

In North America I could see Tesla selling an Adapter that comes with some charging credits and that adapter might authenticate you to the Supercharging giving your non Tesla EV the same seamless experience.

Question: I dont have a tesla so I do not know.
Whats stopping someone with an adapter from buying charging subscription (I presume you need one, or using someone else’s account) and charging their non tesla EV? Is there some sort of verification?

Yes, there is a verification process and it won’t work with just an adapter and access to their app right now. I’m guessing they might allow access to the privilege for a fee that is x more than a Tesla owner might pay. I’ve seen many EVs use adapters at Telsa destination chargers with an adapter but those charge at a much slower rate.

Tesla Accounts have a Credit Card on file associated with them. Your Tesla automobile is associated with your account. When you plug your Tesla into a Supercharger it identifies itself to the Supercharger and the Supercharger knows whose account to charge for the power usage.

Presently a non Tesla EV can’t use the chargers without posing as a Tesla Vehicle to the Supercharger.

Tesla chargers have a data connection and they use a special protocol to verify the VIN of the car connected to it to check that it has supercharging enabled.

And up until recently the "Supercharging Enabled" flag was in the car’s computer itself, so owners without supercharging enabled (some older Teslas) could hack it on.

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