Tesla CEO Elon Musk hit the Intertubes again on Friday, when Reuters received word that he met with two high-level Biden administration officials in Washington, DC. The production of electric vehicles and the construction of electric vehicle charging stations were reportedly on the menu. This raises the question of whether or not Tesla will accept a single standard for charging stations in North America other than its own.
Short answer: No
Last fall, Tesla indicated that it wants 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 publicity machine.
That puts the company at odds with other U.S. and global automakers that support the combined charging system, first introduced in 2011. While automakers in Japan and China continue to use their own systems, CCS has been adopted as standard by all other car manufacturers in Europe. and North America except Tesla.
High-level meeting with White House officials or not, Tesla seems nowhere near joining the rest of the auto gang at CCS. Instead, the company is on track to make it easier for other electric vehicles to use an adapter to use Tesla charging stations in the United States and Canada, as it has done in other countries.
Why can’t Tesla be the real 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. He also noted that Tesla’s charging equipment currently does not qualify for tax incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA specifies “non-proprietary connectors that meet applicable industry safety standards,” wrote Sensiba, which stands for CCS.
To qualify for the incentives, Tesla could go through the same years-long approval process by the automotive stakeholders that supported and continue to support CCS.
However, as Sensiba pointed out, the global organization that sets the charging rate for electric vehicles CharIN (Charging Interface Initiative) has pulled the rug out from this idea. “Why reinvent the wheel?” is a good summary of his 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 collaborative work, the domestic and international EV industry has aligned around CCS,” CharIN’s North American chapter stated last November.
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 named after CharIN verified , Rivian, Scania, Stellantis, Subaru, Suzuki, Tata Motors, Tesla, yes, even Tesla, Toyota, Volvo and Volkswagen as “car manufacturers using and supporting CCS”.
The organization went further, warning that adopting Tesla’s charging system would set back the entire industry rather than speed up the transition to electric vehicles.
“…we encourage stakeholders to investigate ways to focus on market acceleration rather than creating yet another form factor alternative, which will lead to further consumer confusion and delay adoption of electric vehicles,” said CharIN.
CCS is not the only obstacle
Aside from specifying CCS, the Inflation Reduction Act could also affect Tesla indirectly. Starting this year, the federal tax credit for electric vehicle charging stations is only available in non-urban, low-income communities. These limitations are at odds with the profile of the typical Tesla buyer, who is white, wealthy and male.
In that context, Musk may have discussed alternative solutions to both EV charging station standards and tax credit limitations at Friday’s meeting. As reported Reuters (here goes this link again), he met with Biden advisers Mitch Landrieu and John Podesta, the president’s senior adviser on the energy transition.
Good luck with that. As the Biden administration’s senior infrastructure coordinator overseeing the disbursement of Inflation Reduction Act funding, Landrieu would be well aware of the disruptive risk of adopting a new electric vehicle charging standard at this stage of the game
As for Podesta, he’s not just a “die-hard Democrat,” as he describes it 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 happens on Twitter under Musk’s ownership.
“Despite seeking to return power to the people, Elon Musk is turning Twitter into an autocratic system where neo-Nazi accounts are reinstated while journalists’ accounts are suspended,” CAP stated 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 will damage its reputation as a bulwark against fascism just to design special tables at the IRA for Elon Musk.
The reputation of the brand goes into the electric vehicle charging standard
The brand reputation angle also applies directly to automakers and other EV stakeholders. In his article, Sensiba points out that dropping CCS is a non-starter for other automakers. They would make themselves look like followers, not leaders, if they adopted Tesla’s EV charging system after a long-standing commitment to CCS.
The brand’s reputation angle is stronger than ever, in part due to the maturing of the corporate ESG (environmental, social, governance) movement, a movement Musk has vilified, by the way.
While other automakers are trying to polish their ESG profiles, Tesla has been pulling back in recent years. The aura of mystique surrounding Musk and Tesla has been cemented into a series of concrete reputational issues for the brand, including allegations of “rampant discrimination” at its Fremont factory and its refusal to collaborate on a common-sense public health response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the superior of his behavior as a Twitter account holder and owner.
In this context, dropping CCS for a Tesla system is a non-starter. Take Volkswagen, for example. The automaker faced a major scandal of its own in 2015, when an investigation revealed widespread and systematic cheating in diesel emissions tests. It doesn’t seem likely that a German automaker with a global reach would incur more reputational risk by aligning itself with a high-profile American CEO accused of right-wing sympathies.
As part of its foray into the United States, Volkswagen launched its Electrify America EV charging station. Since then, it has become a mainstay in the construction of electric vehicle charging stations.
In a recent update, Electrify America noted that it “expects to have approximately 1,800 total charging stations installed or in development with more than 10,000 chargers in the United States and Canada by 2026.
Additionally, Electrify America has focused on the same communities past Tesla’s high sticker price. Last December, the company announced another $3 million investment in support of community organizations that promote 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 ZEV infrastructure and education programs in the state to mid-2024,” Electrify America said.
That seems to settle the matter, at least for now. If you have any ideas about it, drop us a note in the comments thread.
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Photo: EV charging stations courtesy of Electrify America.
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