The EV charging market is set for more fragmentation as Tesla competes with the established connector standards for fast charging.
Polestar, the EV subsidiary of Geely and sister company to Volvo, is the latest to sign up to use Tesla’s mis-named North American Charging Standard (NACS) connector technology rather than the CCS standard which is common in Europe and in the US. Japan has its own standard, ChaDeMo, and there have been moves to converge CCS and ChaDeMo to reduce the fragmentation issues.
However leading car makers General Motors, Ford and startup Rivian have signed up to use the Tesla standard, as has electric motorcycle maker Verge. European charger designers and makers such as Versinetic and ADS-Tec Energy are highlighting the risks and costs of this fragmentation.
Polestar is set to launch its third generation vehicle later this year but says new Polestar vehicles sold in North America will be equipped with the NACS charging port by default by 2025. Adapters to help existing Polestar drivers to access the Tesla charger network are expected in mid-2024.
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“We salute the pioneering work Tesla has done to speed up the adoption and increase the popularity of electric vehicles, and it’s great to see the Supercharger network being made available in this way. With 12,000 charging points today, a number that will only keep growing, this move will greatly increase the rate of EV adoption in a key automotive region,” says Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of Polestar in Gothenberg, Sweden.
The agreement applies to current and future Polestar models. To maintain compatibility with existing CCS public fast charging infrastructure in North America, future NACS-equipped Polestar vehicles will come with a CCS adapter.
“The adoption of NACS by Polestar, while increasing access to Tesla’s Supercharger network, may inadvertently contribute to a fragmented charging landscape, making it more complex for other EV manufacturers and drivers to navigate,” said Dunstan Power, Managing Director of UK electric vehicle charging consultancy Versinetic.
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“Also, the promise of providing adapters to existing Polestar drivers by mid-2024 seems ambitious, with potential risks of supply chain disruptions that could delay the rollout. It’s important to consider the potential impact on the existing CCS public fast charging infrastructure. Will this move dilute the efforts made to establish and promote CCS as a widespread standard?” said Power.
“While collaborations like these are essential for the growth of the EV industry, we shouldn’t overlook the broader implications. A more comprehensive, unified approach to charging standards may better serve the long-term goals of global EV adoption and sustainability.”
German EV charger maker ADS-TEC Energy is also backing NACS for plugs and charging protocols for electric vehicles (EVs). This raises the question of whether NACS will displace the Combined Charging System Combo 1 (CCS1) standard in North America or whether they can exist in parallel in the long term, said the company. It also presents implications for existing EVs and future EV development and equipment, as well as for the further expansion of charging infrastructure and the development of e-mobility in the U.S. and worldwide.
“Whatever a future standard in the US will look like, we can develop the solutions for it,” said Thomas Speidel, CEO of ADS-TEC Energy. “Based on our very in-depth development, we are capable of taking action and will continue to offer solutions for vehicles with the NACS connector.”
Its flagship ADS-TEC Energy ChargeBox offers up to 320 kW of charging power with connection to existing power-constrained grids, without additional expansion of the grid.
Until now, it was generally accepted that the combined charging standards—CCS1 for the U.S. and CCS2 for Europe—would be the norm. As a pioneer of electric mobility, Tesla initially had its own proprietary fast-charging standard, but this was replaced in Europe in favour of the CCS2 standard. Some Tesla charging stations in Europe still offer both standards as a transition with two cables and plugs each (Tesla specific as well as CCS2), whereas all new Tesla charging stations in Europe only provide CCS2.
The debate over a single US standard is still expected to continue. Even though Tesla has the largest installed base of fast chargers, they have been designed for 400 volts, to date, and more and more 800-volt vehicles are coming to the market.
According to Tesla, it currently operates 45,000 Supercharger charging points worldwide, of which around 12,000, or 60%, are in the USA and Canada, and around 10,000 in Europe. It remains to be seen how the other global automakers will react to the announcement by NACS with regard to CCS1.
The CCS2 standard is already established in Europe with over 440,000 charging points at the end of 2022 and the Biden Administration also favours and promotes the CCS approach. “It therefore will be interesting as other powerful e-mobility organizations in the US weigh in. ADS-TEC Energy’s expertise and flexibility are important assets in dealing with these developments,” said Speidel.
In addition to the connector format, charging port locations on the vehicle, cable lengths, voltage levels, current strengths and safety standards of car manufacturers and charging infrastructure providers must also be considered.
“Our existing CCS1 charging systems can already charge NACS vehicles with a plug adapter. It would be disadvantageous to permanently maintain both standards, which actually only differ in the plug pattern. For the sake of e-mobility, we can only hope that only one standard will actually prevail for North America. We will follow suit,” said Speidel.