It appears the Tesla charger, centre, has emerged as the one charger to rule them all. The CHAdeMO, on the left, needs to be put out of its misery. The CCS, on the right, will soon be supplanted when everyone else in North America follows Ford’s lead and joins Tesla’s standard. Photos by Brian Zinchuk

Tesla’s charger emerges as the one charger to rule them all

Whatever your thoughts are on electric vehicles, there’s been a major hangup in the adoption of electric vehicles – incompatible charging ports. But late last week, a major development between Tesla and Ford may be the beginning of the end for the latest tech format wars.

This isn’t just Betamax vs VHS. It’s Betamax vs VHS vs DVD, at the same time.

In this case, the Betamax example is CHAdeMo, which is an abbreviation of “CHArge de MOve.” Along with being the worst possible product name ever, it’s also the first to begin withering on the vine. The list of vehicles that require it natively (without an adapter) it is shockingly brief, and generally speaking in Canada, is mostly the Nissan Leaf. And yet the new, non-Tesla charging stations I’ve seen installed at Whitewood, Estevan, North Battleford, Regina and Estevan all have these soon-to-be-useless charge units. Seriously, the people paying to install these probably would have been better off installing a Betamax attached to a 21 inch Sony Trinitron TV so they could watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.

Why on earth are new charging stations, like this one in Estevan, being built with this standard that is basically only used for one car model? The CHAdemo is an evolutionary dead end. Notice how the connections look hardly used on this station that’s more than a year old? Photo by Brian Zinchuk

That’s because Europe decided to go with the CCS standard, or Combined Charging System (not carbon capture and storage). And to make it more complicated, there’s an add-on/combo to CCS called J1772 (an even more horrible name) for Level 2 charging. For simplicity sake, I’m just going to say CCS, and it’s VHS.

The Ford F-150 Lightning comes with the CCS plug in. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Tesla trailblazed electric vehicles from totally niche to increasingly mainstream (I was shocked the other day to see how many are driving around Saskatoon), It however went its own, vastly superior way. This is our DVD in the analogy. It built its own quick charger network, which is considered vastly superior in quality, speed, capacity, and number, across North America. They’re called Superchargers for a reason. The Supercharger network also a lot more reliable than the non-Tesla charger stations, which are apparently plagued with outages. That’s a really big problem if you’re going somewhere and your limited or only option for a quick charger is out of order. If gas stations were as unreliable as non-Tesla chargers, no one would have gone anywhere for the last 100 years.

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The Tesla charging connector is smaller, and simpler. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Tesla charge connecters are dramatically smaller and simpler. Tesla cars could use an adapter to connect to a non-Tesla charger, but until very recently, nothing but a Tesla could charge at a Tesla Supercharger.

Ironically, the European Union forced Tesla to adopt the CCS connection there. But in North America, the inverse is now happening.

First, Tesla recently opened up its supercharger network to non-Teslas. Adapters are obviously needed, and few Tesla Superchargers have the “Magic Dock” adapter for CCS just yet. But the Supercharger is no longer an exclusive club, much to the chagrin of all those snobby Tesla owners. The unwashed masses can now join their private club – and that metaphor goes a lot further than you realize.

Ford leads, others will follow

But an even bigger development occurred on May 25.

Ford is going to adopt the Tesla charger connection, and its vehicles will be allowed access to Tesla’s Supercharger network.

If you bought a Ford F-150 Lightning, the pickup truck meant to bring electric vehicles to the redneck masses, you would plug into a CCS charger. As Car and Driver put it, “The surprise announcement late Thursday that Ford will offer present and future owners of its electric vehicles access to more than 12,000 stations in the Tesla Supercharger network came as a shock to most of the auto industry. Tesla has notoriously gone its own way, and the unpredictable and increasingly political behavior of its CEO has certainly been in the news, to say the least.

“Setting all that aside, the two companies’ CEOs jointly announced that future Ford EVs will incorporate the Tesla connector from 2025, and current Ford EV owners will have access to Superchargers starting in spring 2024 via a CCS-to-Tesla connector. (Tesla refers to its plug and connector design as the North American Charging Standard or NACS, although many engineers have objected to that usage since Tesla has not followed the process by which a technical standard is traditionally developed.)”

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Car and Driver wasn’t sure if Fords would still include the CCS connector in addition to the Tesla connector, but expressed they’ll likely have both.

This development immensely opens up charging options for all electric Fords, making EVs much more palatable. In Estevan, for instance, there are three large, rarely used Flo quick chargers with CCS, located behind the Shoppers Mall (2) and at Canadian Tire (1). But beside those Flo chargers behind the mall, there are six new Tesla superchargers, which are all faster than the Flo units. There’s a similar setup in North Battleford. The difference is the Flo chargers output a peak of 50 kilowatts, while the Teslas peak at five times that amount – 250 kilowatts. Which would you plug into, given the choice?

Estevan Tesla and Flo charging station. Rarely do you ever seen anyone parked there, actually charging. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Ford’s adoption of the Tesla charging system, whether alongside the CCS/J1772 or replacing it, really is the turning point in this ridiculous format war. If all the other automakers in North America don’t immediately follow suit, they’re fools.

Fords will have access to the best charging network on the continent, and Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, Jeep Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Lexus, Genesis, Kia, Hyundai, Mazda, etc. will not. How long do you think that’s going to last? Certainly, Elon Musk’s phone has been ringing off the hook since last Thursday, with automaker CEOs clamoring to get in on this.

I am guessing Ford is paying Tesla a pretty penny to join its party. And a similar price will be extracted from all the others. If Tesla is smart, it will then turn around and pour this money into building out the Supercharger network even more, possibly even by an order of magnitude. It can’t afford to piss off all its own rabidly loyal Tesla base by opening up its network to the masses without dramatically expanding that network to make sure that base still has access. Supercharger locations may soon rival Esso/Exxon stations in number. Maybe Shell, too.

And once that mass adoption occurs, all the existing quick charge station operators are probably going to want to update and upgrade their hardware, at minimum punting CHAdeMO to the curb and swapping them for Tesla connectors.

It also means that everyone who currently offers quick charging, or plans to, will need to seriously step up their game, because they’re now in direct competition with the big dog – Tesla. Why would anyone roll the dice in going to a wonky Electrify America site when they could go to an almost certainly operating Tesla Supercharger?

That it took this long for a major turning point to occur in the charger format war is an indictment for the entire electric vehicle industry, and a huge stumbling block for widespread adoption.

For critics of EVs, and I’m one of them, take notice. The world just changed.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor an owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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Ford electric vehicle owners to get access to Tesla Supercharger network starting next spring