Tesla offers its charging tech to the world, but there's a catch

tesla supercharger station tesla model s resized

A Tesla Supercharger station

Credit: Tesla

There’s a hot battle in electric-vehicle land, and Tesla just made it hotter. That battle is over the connection standard for fast-charging stations.

These stations take a half-hour or less to replenish an EV’s battery. EV drivers thirsting for battery juice have been known to skip the more common Level 2 charging stations (which can take hours to recharge a battery fully) to jockey for a spot at a fast charger.

But they have to have the right connector to charge, and there’s the problem. EV manufacturers are already divided between those who support the CHAdeMO connector, including Nissan and other Japanese companies, and the SAE International J1772 standard supported by Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, and many European brands. The latter works with the slower Level 2 stations but is being developed to work with fast-charging stations.

Tesla, meanwhile, has floated above the fray, creating its own connection standard for its Supercharger stations. Those stations now span the United States and are available exclusively, and free of charge, to all Tesla Model S drivers. Access to these stations is part of the reason why Tesla cars have so much cachet.

Based on reports from Engadget and Business Insider among others, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is ready to open up the company’s proprietary fast-charging technology to third parties. Musk’s apparent motivation is to promote the quest for a single standard.

There are a lot of catches to this generous offer, however. First of all, obviously, it adds another connector to the standards battle. Second, the only stations that currently take the Tesla connector are Tesla’s own—currently a mere 91 stations nationwide, compared to nearly 600 CHAdeMO fast-charging stations.

According to Engadget, Musk will let any third-party adopters of the technology use Tesla’s stations, assuming they contribute to the cost of the stations’ upkeep. This is a fair trade, but it doesn’t change the fundamental complication of having to find the right connector at any station to charge your car. Some cars already carry cables for two standards—will they now have to carry a three-headed Hydra of charging cables to guarantee they can charge anywhere?

Tesla’s charging technology may be the best (Tesla has asserted as much, anyway), and its brand is certainly strong. I'm not ruling out the possibility that Musk's offer could be the Gordian-knot-cutting, disruptive force that resolves this standards problem once and for all. It's equally possible, however, that this could make the EV drivers' road to a universal standard all the longer.

This story, "Tesla offers its charging tech to the world, but there's a catch" was originally published by TechHive.

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