Why Tesla developed NACS 15 years ago and how they are now testing their market power

When Tesla started developing the Model S a good 15 years ago, there was no standard plug. They had already hastily developed their own for the Tesla Roadster, but were already aware that it would not have a future. It could only charge with AC, DC fast charging was not intended.

For the Model S they delevoped, what is now known as NACS. Back then, it was commonly known simply as the Tesla US plug. Right from the start, Elon Musk has offered everyone else that they can use their plug too. In the USA, as well as in Europe, an adapted version of it based on the modern type 2 plug. For example, the old Mercedes-Benz B-Class prototypes already had it and were therefore able to charge with superchargers. Due to safety concerns and because it's not a public standard, the production version of the B-Class was then given the normal Type 2. Which can only charge AC 11 kW and can't charge DC.

Tesla Supercharger V2, V3, V4

Tesla had used this plug in the USA over the years and has installed it in every car ever since. Because Tesla has been selling electric cars with this plug for a good 10 years and has been doing so increasingly in bulk for about 5 years, the share of vehicles with the plug in the entire market has been very high.

That has only changed in the last 2-3 years, as practically all other OEMs are slowly starting to build electric cars and regain market share. What Tesla does not like is that they have seen in Europe how much effort it is to convert their charging stations and cars to the combo standard, i.e. CCS. They modified the second generation Supercharger to have two cables. One for CCS, one for Tesla's old Europe plug. Since Generation 3, they have only installed CCS in Europe and offer conversion with an adapter to CCS for €250 for all old vehicles.

In a last ditch effort to avoid having to convert US inventory, they declared their plug the "North American Standard Plug" late last year. Once again emphasizes that anyone can use it and also publishes documentation and 3D files for it.

At the same time, Tesla also realized that they would probably have to go to CCS. Tesla now also offers the adapters for existing vehicles in the USA and has implemented the entire hardware and software in their new cars. In addition, a few months ago they set up the first US superchargers that can do both NACS and CCS via a so called magic dock. Which is an adapter integrated in the supercharger.

Tesla Magic Dock

Meanwhile, GM and Ford have found that the public charging network in the US is very unreliable. But they still want to sell more and more electric cars and need a reasonable charging network.

For this reason, as the manufacturers justify this step themselves, they want to use Tesla's plug from 2025 to be able to charge their vehicles on the superchargers. The advantages of a reliable charging network are obvious and have long been a selling point for Tesla's cars.

The step is of course great for GM and Ford in the short term. In the medium and long term, however, it will bring them in even more trouble: The problem in the USA is not the plug, it is the charging infrastructure up to the plug. THIS is unreliable, THIS causes problems and THIS is what made GM and Ford move towards the plug. NOT that CCS could be worse than NACS. GM and Ford do not rely on Tesla's so-called standard because of the plug, but because of the associated access to the superchargers. I strongly assume that they had negotiated with Tesla for a long time and preferred to charge with CCS there.

But Tesla certainly also saw the possibility of enforcing the NACS plug by forcing GM and Ford to use it if they officially wanted to use Tesla's ecosystem with the superchargersn.

2016: Unser altes Model S 85D auf dem Weg ans Nordkap

Tesla could also implement on their Supercharger CCS, just like they have in Europe. Or just set up the solution with CCS and NACS throughout the USA. But of course it's cheaper for Tesla to convince the rest of its own plug. Also, Tesla has always been fairly consistent against standards that they don't control 100% on their own. In the past this helped Tesla a lot and was more often than not a good thing. But this time it's different.

In the medium and long term it will not only be a problem because of the plug. It's a problem because this step involves so much more:

  • GM and Ford send their customers to superchargers, i.e. to the competition. This has never been a successful model, GM and Ford owners will charge on superchargers and wonder why they don't directly drive a Tesla.
    • In addition, the existing supercharging network can only handle 400 V. Vehicles with an 800 V system have to use their DCDC converter to be able to charge on the superchargers. The power therefor is limited for them from 50 kW (Lucid) to 150 kW (Porsche).
  • Even with the NACS plug, anything apart from the supercharger is unreliable. The problem remains unsolved. The fact that charging station manufacturers also want to offer their stations with the NACS connector in the near future does not change that. It's just a plug.
  • Ford and GM enter into a dependency that would not be necessary. There is then still only one provider of reliable charging infrastructure for their cars. Which would also be the case if the Superchargers had CCS. A dependency over which they have no control.
  • NACS is not a standard governed by a third party. If Tesla wants, they can do whatever they want with it without asking anyone. Tesla emphasized this again by not wanting to cooperate with CharIN e.V. and apparently not responding to the request from SAE Standards to make it an actual standard. Tesla wants sole control over this connector. Another dependency that Ford and GM are entering into.
  • End customers now have to deal with the plug chaos that results from this step and will last at least 5-10 years. You have to look at what kind of plug your car has, have an adapter with you and you can't just plug in every car everywhere without having to think. This confuses the average user and gives them the impression that e-mobility is far from ready.
  • Today Tesla is still trying out their market power in the USA. Here in Europe we might should not care. But tomorrow they could also try it in Europe. For example with the already missing RFID readers and displays on the superchargers.
  • Tesla's NACS is ultimately just a plug. Even by Tesla's own admission, the protocol behind it is just a restricted version of CCS. For example, bidirectional charging is completely missing and is only described very vaguely.
    • Incidentally, the fact that NACS now practically runs on CCS was not the case 15 years ago. It was still based on analogue communication, which is why old vehicles also have additional hardware installed when CCS is retrofitted to them. And wich is also, why a CHAdeMO adapter was available practually since day one, while CCS came just in the late 2010s.
  • Because NACS uses the digital CCS protocol, old Tesla vehicles will still have to have the hardware retrofitted in order to be able to charge at all NACS stations. At some point, not even the superchargers will work without the CCS control unit anymore.

Should NACS establish itself as the standard, there will be one winner and everybody else losers. Tesla doesn't have to convert their cars, it's a win for them. While all other manufacturers would become dependent of Tesla and would have to send their customers to the competition for charging.

End customers would have to deal with different plugs, adapters and all that. Also, they would have to use a connector, which is a technical dead end and also wouldn't physically separate AC and DC charging. Which was the reason 10 years ago why everyone apart from Tesla uses CCS. When Tesla started using the NACS connector, it was quite standard to chase AC and DC over the same pins. Everyone else, however, saw that this was extremely dangerous and so the rest of the industry agreed on CCS with its separate DC pins. Even tho they where also using a variant of Type 2 before, which used the same pins for AC and DC.

Ultimately, the visual appearance of a connector is by far not everything and CCS is the best connector on the market all round. It doesn't matter whether it's on a supercharger or another charging station. Tesla is testing its own market power with the NACS discussion and is clearly going too far here. Hence my statement that Tesla basically has sole control over the plug. Even if they are currently open to suggestions, this can change every day and nobody can do something about that.

It is also important to understand what is and is not a standard. Because what at first glance is hardly one, is ultimately a difference like day and night.

A standard..

.. is largely the same as a norm. This is managed by an independent organization with consideration for all stakeholders. Adjustments are submitted, discussed with everyone and then decided.

Tesla's self-proclaimed standard..

... is a de facto standard in which everyone can bring their wishes to Tesla, but Tesla is not obliged to respond to them. Adjustments can be brought to Tesla, discussed with Tesla and then, with luck, decided in consultation with others or are simply beeing ignored.

Both charIN and have SAE standards announced that they want to be the organization that maintains NACS as the standard. But announcing it is not enough. Tesla must hand over responsibility to the organization completely and put itself on an equal footing with all other stakeholders in the organization. Only then does the desired de facto standard become a real standard.

So far, Tesla has not joined charIN's efforts to make it a standard, nor those of SAE Standards. Hence my statement that Tesla basically has sole control over the plug. Even if they are currently open to suggestions, that can change every day and nobody can do anything about it.

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