How Tesla is opening up its Superchargers to other EVs

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has for year, talked about opening up his company’s massive Supercharger network to other electric vehicles. But earlier this month, Musk tweeted that Tesla plans to do so”later this year‘, and this week he finally gave some details on how it might work.

It will be “very simple,” Musk claimed Monday during a conversation with investors. Owners of other EVs can charge at a Supercharger station using the Tesla app — which is currently targeted at people who have purchased the company’s products. That’s about all Tesla needs to do to make this happen in Europe and China, where there are standardized charging cable connectors, Musk said. (Tesla has already committed to) opening of the network in Norway.)

But Tesla has its own connector in North America, so non-Tesla vehicles will need an adapter here. That may be up to the other automakers to make; Musk has previously said that Tesla has been in talks with other automakers about… share the costs to open the Supercharger network, and in 2018 he said competitors “must be able to accept our charging rate and connector, at the very least have an adapter to our connector.” Tesla can still make its own, as Musk said he expects to make them available at Supercharger stations as long as “people don’t steal them or something.” (Tesla energy chief Drew Baglino assured his boss during the call that his team “has a good solution for that”.)

This adapter should probably be certified (something typically done by: third parties such as UL) and some basic software written to handle the “handshake” that takes place between a car and its charger before electrons start flowing.

If Tesla allows other electric vehicles to charge on the Supercharger network, it could be a big boost for the nascent – but growing – EV market. The company has already built nearly 3,000 stations and nearly 27,000 connectors worldwide that can charge faster than most other networks.

Numerous already open charging networks such as EVgo, ChargePoint, and Blink have recently gone public and plan to use much of that new funding to expand their networks. But unlocking the Supercharger network for owners of other EVs can instantly alleviate the double headache of finding available (and working) chargers and the time spent charging.

It could also be a financial boon for Tesla, Baglino said during an investor call Monday. “Increasing network usage lowers our costs, allowing us to lower charging prices for all customers, making the network more profitable and allowing us to grow the network faster. That’s a good thing there,” he said. Something that remained unspoken: the possibility that opening up the network could make Tesla’s superchargers more attractive to government subsidy programs. (President Biden has said he wants to build) 500,000 charging stations as part of a $15 billion investment in the technology.)

However, there is at least one major potential problem for this plan: capacity – not the energy type, but the how-overfull-superchargers-get.

As Tesla’s vehicles become more popular, Supercharger stations in some major cities have become overcrowded. In a way, that’s good for Tesla – hanging out at Superchargers while you charge is a great way to meet other potentially like-minded Tesla owners, which in turn helps grow the company’s legion of devotees. But waiting in line only to then wait again while you charge is annoying, and things will only get busier as Tesla opens up the Supercharger network to other EVs.

To fix this, Musk said Tesla can play with dynamic pricing. For example, the company could raise prices if your EV charges slower than a Tesla because, as Musk said Monday, the “biggest limitation with Superchargers is time.”

The bigger block, Musk said, is that Tesla is making cars faster than new Supercharger stations. Opening the network is “useful to the public only if we are able to” [build Superchargers] faster than Tesla’s vehicle output,” he said. “So this is a lot of work for the Supercharger team.”

Access to a large, exclusive network of fast-charging stations has long been one of the selling points when buying a Tesla, which could make this transition tricky, said Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com. “Elon will have to weigh his desire to broaden access to EV charging — and increase Tesla’s revenues — against keeping his owner happy,” Brauer said in an email to The edge. “That might be a bridge too far, even for Elon.”

But opening up the network can also be a powerful marketing tool for a company that doesn’t spend money on traditional advertising, car dealer executive editor Brian Moody said via email.

“The smart thing about this idea is that it gradually exposes motorists, especially those who are already interested in EVs, to the Tesla brand. I bet it will lead to more Tesla buyers in the long run,” Moody wrote.

While an exclusive Supercharger network was a selling point for Tesla, Musk insisted Monday that he had always hoped to open it up to other electric vehicles — trying another Silicon Valley giant in the process. “Our goal is to support the arrival of sustainable energy. It’s not to create a walled garden and use it to knock down our competitors, which is sometimes used by a company,” he said, before fake coughing, adding: “Apple.”

It’s something those other charging networks have anticipated as well. in a recent financial statementEVgo admitted that by opening up its Supercharger network, Tesla could “further reduce the demand for charging at our locations.”