Like the proverbial Betamax vs. VHS technology competition of the 1980s, EV fast charging has been caught up in a wasteful turf war involving three different formats, basically boiling down to Japan versus Europe/North America vs. Tesla.
By Ethan Elkind
But now we suddenly have a winner, as first Ford and then General Motors and startup Rivian have all pledged, in the past few weeks, to adopt the Tesla charging standard in their vehicles starting next year, with adapters available for consumers this year.
It couldn’t happen soon enough. The differing charging formats meant EV drivers were limited where they could get fast charging or had to carry adapters, while non-Tesla charging stations had to have multiple plugs available for different formats.
The other problem is that non-Tesla chargers are basically awful. They’re unreliable, clunky and often with low power. While legacy automakers dithered and refused to invest in a network of chargers, Tesla instead built a user-friendly, ubiquitous network. The company is now poised to reap the economic benefits, from its position as a dominant market leader in vehicle sales.
One of the big questions now is what happens to all the soon-to-be-obsolete chargers out there? Companies like EVgo and Electrify America have built thousands of fast-charger stations with formats that are now zombie technology. Worse, the public has invested significantly in these stations, with EVgo a creation of a $100 million legal settlement from the California energy crisis circa 2000, while Electrify America was funded with dollars from the Volkswagen “dieselgate” emissions cheating settlement, to the tune of almost $1 billion in California alone.
All will not be lost, as the stations can be retrofitted in some cases. The wiring is sometimes the hard part, so charger replacement by itself may not be too expensive. But in some cases, retrofits may be uneconomical. And ultimately, these companies are likely to go out of business, unless they can get access to Tesla’s intellectual property to build their own versions of a Tesla SuperCharger.
If not, Tesla will have a monopoly on charging stations, which will create its own long-term problems. But for now, the charging format wars have ended, in favor of the far superior product.
That’s something that both EV advocates and drivers can finally celebrate.
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