Tesla CEO Elon Musk set the Intertubes humming again on Friday, then Reuters scooped the news that he met with two senior Biden administration officials in Washington, DC. Production of electric cars and construction of EV charging stations were reportedly on the menu. That raises the question of whether Tesla will agree to a single standard for charging stations in North America other than its own.
Short answer: No
As of last fall, Tesla indicated that they want a single standard, which happens to be its own technology and not the well-known Combined Charging System (CCS) used by almost the rest of the industry. The company went ahead and proposed something called the “North American Charging Standard,” although no such standard exists outside of Tesla’s advertising machine.
That puts the company at odds with other U.S. and global automakers that support the Combined Charging System, which was first introduced in 2011. Although automakers in Japan and China continue to use their own systems, CCS has been adopted as the standard by all others car manufacturers in Europe and North America except Tesla.
High-level meeting with White House officials or not, Tesla doesn’t seem close to joining the rest of the car gang at CCS. Instead, the company is moving to make it easier for other EVs to use an adapter to use Tesla charging stations in the US and Canada, as it has done in other countries.
Why can’t Tesla be the de facto EV charging standard?
Earlier this month CleanTechnica’s Jennifer Sensiba pointed out several reasons why other EV charging stakeholders are unlikely to switch from CCS to Tesla. She also noted that Tesla’s charging equipment does not currently qualify for tax incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA specifies “non-proprietary connectors that meet applicable industry safety standards,” Sensiba wrote, meaning CCS.
To qualify for the incentives, Tesla could go through the same year-long approval process undertaken by the automotive stakeholders who supported CCS and continue to support it.
But as noted by Sensiba, global EV charging pace-setting organization CharIN (stands for Charging Interface Initiative) has pulled the rug from that idea. “Why reinvent the wheel?” is a good summary of its position.
“CCS has gone through many years of rigorous standardization processes, which is a necessary activity for any new standard proposal. After a decade of cooperation, the domestic and international electricity industry has oriented itself around CCS,” the North American branch of CharIN stated last November.
CharIN name controlled Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai/Kia, Lucid, Lotus, Mazda, MAN, Mercedes-Benz, Navistar, New Flyer, Nikola, Nissan, PSA Groupe, Proterra, Renault, Rivian , Scania, Stellantis, Subaru, Suzuki, Tata Motors, Tesla – yes, even Tesla – Toyota, Volvo and Volkswagen as “automakers using and supporting CCS.”
The organization went further and warned that the adoption of Tesla’s charging system would set back the entire industry instead of speeding up the transition to electric cars.
“… we encourage stakeholders to explore ways to focus on market acceleration rather than the creation of yet another form factor alternative, which will lead to further consumer confusion and delay the adoption of electric vehicles,” CharIN said.
CCS is not the only obstacle
Aside from specifying CCS, the Inflation Reduction Act may also affect Tesla indirectly. Starting this year, the federal tax credit for EV charging stations is only available in non-urban and low-income communities. These limitations run counter to the profile of the typical Tesla buyer, which tends to be white, wealthy and male.
Against this background, it is possible that Musk discussed solutions for both EV charging station standards and tax credit limitations at the meeting on Friday. As reported by Reuters (here’s that link again), he met with Biden advisers Mitch Landrieu and John Podesta, a senior adviser to the president in charge of the energy transition.
Good luck with that. As senior infrastructure coordinator for the Biden administration overseeing the disbursement of Inflation Reduction Act funding, Landrieu would be keenly aware of the disruptive risk of embracing a new EV charging standard at this stage of the game.
As for Podesta, he’s not just another “Democratic savant,” as described by Reuters. Podesta served under Presidents Clinton and Obama. He also founded the well-known liberal think tank Center for American Progress, which has been monitoring what’s going on on Twitter under Musk’s ownership.
“While Elon Musk pretends to give power back to the people, he is actually turning Twitter into an autocratic system where neo-Nazi accounts are restored while journalists’ accounts are suspended,” CAP said in a press release last December.
Last week, Business Insider and another news organization also reported that a leaked memo indicated that Musk personally ordered the suspensions.
This is just a wild guess, but it doesn’t seem likely that the Biden administration would damage its reputation as a bulwark against fascism just to make special exclusions in the IRA for Elon Musk.
The brand’s reputation kicks in for the EV Charging Standard
The brand reputation angle also applies directly to car manufacturers and other EV stakeholders. In his article, Sensiba points out that ditching CCS is a nonstarter for other automakers. They would make themselves look like followers, not leaders, if they adopted the Tesla EV charging system after a long-term commitment to CCS.
The brand reputation angle is stronger than ever, in part because of the maturing of the company’s ESG (environmental, social, governance) movement — a movement Musk has, incidentally, vilified.
Even as other automakers try to polish their ESG profiles, Tesla has fallen back in recent years. The aura of mystery surrounding Musk and Tesla has congealed into a series of concrete problems with the brand’s reputation, including allegations of “pervasive discrimination” at his Fremont factory and his refusal to cooperate on a common-sense public health response to the COVID-19 outbreak the peak of his behavior as both account holder and owner of Twitter.
In this context, ditching CCS for a Tesla system is a nonstarter. Take Volkswagen for example. The automaker faced its own major scandal back in 2015 when an investigation revealed widespread, systematic cheating on diesel emissions tests. It seems unlikely that a German automaker with a global reach would incur additional reputational risk by aligning itself with a high-profile American CEO accused of right-wing sympathies.
As part of its settlement in the US, Volkswagen launched its Electrify America EV charging station. Since then, it has become a mainstay of EV charging station construction.
In a recent update, Electrify America noted that it “expects to install or have approximately 1,800 total charging stations under development with over 10,000 chargers in the US and Canada by 2026.
In addition, Electrify America has focused on the very communities that have been passed over by Tesla’s high sticker price. Last December, the company announced an additional $3 million investment to support community-based organizations promoting electric vehicles in low-income and disadvantaged communities in California.
“This effort is part of the company’s broader commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices and supports the existing plan to invest $200 million in California’s ZEV infrastructure and education programs in the state through mid-2024,” Electrify stated America.
That seems to settle the matter, at least for now. If you have any thoughts on it, drop us a note in the comments thread.
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Photo: Electric vehicle charging stations courtesy of Electrify America.
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