When A Company Abandons CCS, It Should Completely Take Care Of Existing Owners
Ford CEO Jim Farley met with Elon Musk on a Twitter Space to announce that Ford will be adopting Tesla’s NACS plug for future cars, starting in 2025 with next-gen vehicles. While this will probably end up being a good move for the industry, we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out as other automakers and charging providers respond to the announcement to see if we’re in for continued fragmentation or the market choosing one plug for EVs in North America.
I want to note that unlike most of my fellow writers, I never use the term “NACS” in a standalone fashion. I always put it in quotes, call it Tesla/NACS, or somehow associate the acronym with the company. My reasoning for this isn’t a diss to Tesla as much as to acknowledge the reality that there is no North American Charging Standard (at least as of this writing). Sure, it’s Tesla’s standard plug for its North American vehicles, but other than Ford, only Aptera has adopted the plug (and it hasn’t delivered any vehicles yet). If anything, the Infrastructure Bill’s requirement that CCS plugs be available at all stations funded by that law makes for a compelling argument that CCS is the real standard, but that’s just in the United States and not for all of North America. So, there’s still no North American standard.
But, that’s just how things are today. Ford’s surprise move could very well be the first big domino to fall, and if the rest of the industry gets on board with Tesla’s NACS, it will truly become just NACS. I don’t think that would be a bad thing at all, because Tesla’s connector seems to be a lot easier to use and the company has a massive head start on a charging network. Getting the whole EV family together would be more efficient and just generally better for EV adoption as long as charging continues to expand beyond the Supercharger network.
But, there’s a potential downside for everyone who already bought a CCS car: diminished future growth of the network. With Ford bailing out on CCS, and at least some others likely to follow, the number of future CCS stations our cars will be able to charge at will not grow like it would have if Ford had stuck with CCS. The more automakers that do this, the fewer future CCS plugs there will be. If everybody does this, and even the U.S. federal government throws in the towel on CCS, the whole future of CCS is likely in trouble, and the number of stations could even fall over time.
Doing the Right Thing Is Easy, But Not Cheap
Ford did the right thing and arranged to make sure a CCS to Tesla/NACS plug is going to be available for people who bought CCS cars, but details on pricing or whether it will just give the adapters away are not yet available.
As a CCS driver, I think Ford and any other automaker which bails on CCS should give existing owners an adapter upon request. Doing this would not only bring their loyal customers along for the ride into greener pastures, but it would ensure that the automaker has fully compensated them for any losses by preventing the loss from happening in the first place. If nobody gets stuck with a dying or diminished standard, nobody is worse off.
I know not everyone will even want an adapter, so just making something you can ask for would be a great gesture and wouldn’t mean they need to make one for every car.
I also think it would be great for manufacturers to come up with retrofit kits for dealers to install. While I don’t think this needs to be free, making the retrofit free or cheap would be a great way to show good will and inspire more brand loyalty. Plus, who wants to use an adapter all the time? Free or not, it needs to at least be available!
What About The Holdouts?
It seems obvious that a company choosing to abandon CCS should try to do right by their past customers, but that doesn’t address the question of what the holdouts should do. I know most readers probably think that the answer is to go ahead and get on the “NACS” train, and then provide an adapter. While you guys are probably right, we also need to keep in mind that these companies have invested a lot of money in CCS and will thus be very hesitant to invest more to be free of it. So, some will likely hold out and stay with CCS the same way Nissan stuck with CHAdeMO for far longer than it should have.
Who knows? Ford could possibly be the only company to jump ship, with everyone else sticking with CCS. If that happens, CCS will remain a viable competing standard, especially as adapters become common.
I don’t think we’re going to convince the holdouts (as many or as few as there are) to provide free adapters for stations they don’t want to support, but we can pressure them to at least try to support or allow the development of third-party adapters. If the market becomes more of a split between Tesla plugs and CCS, then this is actually in their best interest to maximize the utility of their vehicles, even if they don’t want to officially adopt the standard themselves.
Charging Networks Could Be In A Difficult Spot
Automakers aren’t the only players in this game, but when it comes to charging, there’s some overlap between automakers and charging providers that can make for some interesting complications.
For providers like EVgo and Chargepoint, which don’t make vehicles at all, the solution is very simple and obvious. In fact, EVgo is already working on supporting Tesla-plugged vehicles along with CCS and CHAdeMO. So, anybody only doing CCS currently is just going to need to expand upon their offerings to support all of the vehicles out there. Being ready to shift plugs at will to accommodate future demand would also be great, but that’s probably technically complicated.
The other issue could be Electrify America’s status straddling the line between a manufacturer and a charging provider. As a subsidiary of the VW Group, it has an interest to support its cars and not support Tesla and Ford. Its minimal CHAdeMO installations show us that it has followed VW’s lead on plug choice thus far. So, we don’t know whether it will stick with CCS along with the VW group’s cars, or whether it will move over and follow Ford’s lead.
Finally, there’s still the possibility of government and legal issues cropping up. It’s possible that the Biden Administration might decide to try to stop the industry from following Tesla, and it’s possible that if Tesla gets too much of the charging market, antitrust issues could crop up. But, that’s an issue to save for another article later.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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