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What Tesla’s open EV charging network and NACS means for the industry

Tesla’s open network and connector standards (NACS) are a boon for drivers and businesses alike
Tesla Superchargers (equipped with NACS connectors)

The dread of being stuck somewhere with a dead phone is a feeling that society has come to know all too well, especially in a world of proprietary phone chargers and competing standards. It’s not hard to imagine finding yourself up dead battery creek without a cable, stuck with nothing to do on the subway but twiddle your thumbs.

Early electric vehicle adopters know the feeling of charging anxiety doubly well. Thankfully, the rapid growth of charging stations has helped ease those fears, and the situation is constantly improving. Tesla, whose chargers previously only served its own vehicles, is expanding charging network access to third-party vehicles. Meanwhile, its connectors are becoming the de facto choice for EV manufacturers. Now called the North American Charging Standard (NACS), the Tesla charging connector and charge port provide a superior fueling experience compared to the bulky CCS1. At least seven automakers have agreed to adopt the new standard—with more on the way.

With thousands of new chargers at everyone’s disposal and a new charging standard rapidly gaining traction, range anxiety may soon be as extinct as the dinosaurs whose combustible remains fuel non-electric cars.

Why Tesla's change matters

EV charging infrastructure isn’t perfect. One of the most common complaints that EV drivers have is charging station hardware being broken down, with 54% of drivers experiencing problems with public charging, according to a Plug In America survey. Tesla drivers, however, were less likely to experience such issues. Simply put, with access to Tesla’s chargers, non-Tesla EV drivers are gaining access to an overall larger—and more reliable—network.

In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any EV drivers arguing against Tesla’s charging network change, and for good reason. Tesla has more than 6,000 charging stations in the United States alone, according to the US Department of Energy, with more than 1,600 of those being DC fast chargers—or Superchargers, as Tesla calls them. Those stations give cars a lot of juice, as Superchargers can refill 200 miles of range in as little as 15 minutes. That’s a feat that relatively few charging stations can claim to accomplish.

Beyond benefitting EV drivers, there are also implications for how EV charging will be handled as a whole. For many, the term “electric vehicle” is almost synonymous with Tesla, with the company’s Model Y and Model 3 taking up Kelley Blue Book’s top two slots for most popular electric cars

Electric vehicle sales by manufacturer

Tesla is an industry leader, and its change sets a new precedent for the EV industry. Over the next five years, Tesla's production and sales will undoubtedly continue to scale exponentially, but other manufacturers will even the playing field. But even if Tesla is supplanted, the expectation of open networks and unified standards will remain.

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What is NACS?

NACS stands for the North American Charging Standard, which is what Tesla renamed its charging standard in November of 2022 when it provided design and specification details to any and all parties that might be interested. So far, GM, Ford, Rivian, Polestar, Volvo, and Mercedes Benz have taken Tesla up on the offer, some with plans to introduce NACS adapters to their EVs by 2024 and to incorporate the standard into production by 2025. It remains to be seen which other automakers will also adopt NACS, but Hyundai and Volkswagen at least are currently considering the switch, as well as Audi and Porsche.

NACS directly competes with Combined Charging Standard (CCS), which is the connector used by most North American EV makers, and CHAdeMO, which is used by major Japanese manufacturers. J1772 plugs connect to CCS ports and are the typical standard for Level 2 chargers. There are currently more CCS and CHAdeMO charging stations on the road than those for NACS, but Tesla’s network contains more charging ports than the CCS and CHAdeMO networks combined. Tesla’s Superchargers also power up an EV faster than either other standard. Below is a snapshot of the different plug types and their respective benefits.

EV charger plug types - CCS1, J1772, CHAdeMO, NACS

Why Tesla is making the change

Tesla’s move comes in the wake of the Biden Administration’s massive infrastructure bill, which helped catalyze $700 million in private sector investments to make EV charging more accessible and affordable, and itself invested in EV charging infrastructure across the nation’s highways. The timing for both the US government’s infrastructure bill and Tesla’s charging station access expansion makes sense. The US electric vehicle market is projected to grow from $28.24 billion in 2021 to $137.43 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 25.4%, so now’s the time to start laying a reliable foundation for EV charging infrastructure. Tesla is doing just that, while also opening itself up to an entirely new audience.

What does this mean for EV charging businesses?

Tesla’s move may raise concerns that the company will swallow the EV charging station market whole. The space is certainly about to become more competitive—Tesla’s reputation for delivering fast and reliable charging, plus the striking design of its stations, certainly gives the company an allure that will attract business. That said, the infrastructure needs anticipate in North America far outpace Tesla’s reach. It’s incumbent upon everyone in the industry to consider hardware support for NACS to achieve scale.

A charging station’s value isn’t determined by its brand name, but by how well it delivers on both the business and customer-facing ends of the experience—and that’s the product of the software that drives it. Customers need a system that eliminates any friction from paying and charging, while the business side of the software needs to deliver a full suite of monetization optimization and analytics features. But with software developers in short supply these days, the question of build versus buy becomes simple: Partnerships are the path to growth in this industry.

ChargeLab’s white-label EV charging software is here to help, giving station managers control over their app’s UX, while also offering in-depth charger and pricing management tools. Check out ChargeLab’s software solution page to see the features EV charging station managers need to compete.

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