EA first, VW next? —
Lots may be read into this news, as Electrify America is owned by Volkswagen.
The EV charging plug deathwatch might need to be kicked into a higher gear. This week two charging networks have announced that they’re going to add support for the Tesla-style North American Charging Standard connectors. On Wednesday, Blink revealed that it integrated NACS into its level 2 and DC fast chargers. Today, it was Electrify America, the country’s largest non-Tesla charging network, which will also add NACS plugs to its charging stations.
Tesla opened up the latest version of its charging protocols to the wider auto industry in November 2022, renaming it the North American Charging Standard as it did so. For a few months, nothing much happened, but in late May, Ford signed a deal to adopt NACS and obtain access to Tesla’s Supercharger network. Two weeks later, General Motors followed, then Rivian, and most recently, Volvo joined the club.
At first, the move raised eyebrows from some industry watchers. It appeared that Ford, GM, and others were putting a hugely important aspect of their customers’ EV experience into the hands of a rival—one run by a CEO known for impulsive, often rash decisions like suggesting making Tesla private again or deciding to close all its retail stores, both whims that were later backtracked.
Access to Tesla’s Supercharger network will remain gate-kept by Tesla as is its right, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more OEMs negotiate access for their EVs. But NACS as a standard will no longer be controlled by Tesla. Instead, thanks in part to help from the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, it will fall under the jurisdiction of SAE International, which has promised to expedite its efforts so that NACS can become an official standard within the next six months.
An independent NACS is far more attractive to the rest of the industry; car companies are cautious by their nature, and SAE being in charge of NACS should give some the cover they needed to make the jump.
The charging companies didn’t need to wait.
“At the EVS36 Symposium earlier this month, we announced the integration of NACS connectors into our new 240 kW DC Fast Charger. Since this exciting announcement, we have diligently advanced the integration of NACS connectors across our entire Blink charger product line,” said Blink president and CEO Brendan Jones.
Blink says it will begin building NACS DC fast chargers by October. And NACS plugs will be an option for all of Blink’s level 2 (AC) chargers. “Blink’s engineering team has successfully demonstrated the swift integration of NACS connectors into the Company’s line of L2 chargers, resulting in significant time-to-market savings. The new NACS and [J]1772 dual units are expected to be released in early 2024 from Blink’s Bowie, MD manufacturing facility,” Jones said.
Electrify America might need longer timelines to add NACS support—right now, it is only saying that it will work to add NACS plugs by 2025. But its announcement may be seen as highly significant more so because of who owns it—Electrify America was set up by the Volkswagen Group in response to the diesel emissions scandal in 2015. And where VW’s charging network goes, so too, perhaps may VW?
Certainly, we shouldn’t look at the Combined Charging System standard as some inviolable sacred cow for one or another automaker. They’re businesses that exist to sell cars, and that’s easier to do if you can promise them that your EVs are easy to charge because they have access to the largest and best charging network in the country. Now, we wait for the subsequent dominos to fall.