Ford CEO Jim Farley and Tesla CEO Elon Musk made the announcement together in a livestream on Musk’s Twitter social media platform.
The move could have massive implications for the future of electric vehicles (EVs). It could remain a small agreement between two companies. Or it could be the start of a dam breaking, leading Tesla’s plug system to flood the market and solve one of the thorniest EV problems.
Square Pegs and Round Holes
Imagine that some cars had round fuel filler holes, some had triangular ones, and a small number had rhomboid holes. Now, imagine that all gas stations had fuel-filler nozzles in just one of the three shapes.
You couldn’t pull up to any gas station and count on a fill-up. You’d have to find the right gas station for your car.
That’s roughly what EV owners deal with today.
Tesla has its own proprietary plug. Tesla also operates by far the world’s (and America’s) largest charging network. Until recently, it served only Tesla cars.
The rest of the automotive industry is split between two plugs. Most, including Ford’s EVs, use one called the Combined Charging System (CCS). A small number of older cars also use a third, called CHAdeMO.
None are interoperable, leaving EV owners hunting for pegs for their particular holes.
Some older Nissan Leaf EVs even came with slots for both CCS and CHAdeMo to increase their drivers’ chances of finding a compatible charger.
Tesla’s Plug Is Better, and Tesla Offered it to Everyone Last Year
The Tesla plug is easily the best design of the three. It provides just as much power just as quickly, but through a much smaller plug. Many CCS plugs are so big that users need two hands to snap them in place. Tesla’s is small enough for most users to manipulate without putting down their coffee.
Last year, Tesla offered its plug to every manufacturer. The company renamed it the North American Charging Standard (NACS) and posted schematics for free so that any automaker could adopt it for free.
Until now, no one has taken them up on the offer. But they all should have.
Tesla’s Network Is Huge
Tesla operates America’s largest charging network. Its Superchargers are found in all 50 states, along most interstate highway routes, and in nearly every city of significant size. But, until recently, it was open only to Tesla owners.
Several rivals have been building CCS-equipped networks trying to catch up. But no one is close yet, and Tesla is still expanding its network.
In order to qualify for federal grants to build more chargers, Tesla had to open its walled garden. So it opened some sites (but never said how many) for other users. Several companies sell adapters allowing a CCS vehicle to use a Tesla charger.
That’s a Huge Competitive Advantage
Because of the round-hole-square-peg problem, EV shoppers have to decide not just which car they want, but which charging network they want access to.
You might research and find that the Hyundai Ioniq 5 was your favorite EV. Then, being rational, you might buy a Tesla Model Y instead because it’s so much easier to live with one that can charge everywhere.
What Is Changing
According to Ford, the company has “reached an agreement with Tesla Motors that will provide Ford electric vehicle customers access to more than 12,000 Tesla Superchargers across the U.S. and Canada, doubling the number of fast-chargers available to Ford EV customers starting Spring 2024.”
The entire Tesla Supercharger network consists of about 12,000 chargers, so this appears to involve the bulk of Tesla’s network.
Ford owners will be able to use Superchargers with the help of an adapter.
In 2025, however, “Ford will offer next-generation electric vehicles with the North American Charging Standard (NACS) connector built-in, eliminating the need for an adapter to access Tesla Superchargers.”
A Frustrated CEO On a Road Trip Made it Happen
Ford’s Farley says it took complaints from his kids to make it happen.
Farley took his family on a road trip to Lake Tahoe in a Ford EV last year.
“My kids kept looking at me and going: ‘Hey, Dad, there’s another Supercharger. Can we stop there? How about there?’” Farley told Musk in their Twitter conversation. “I was like, ‘No, we have to go over here behind this other building.’ So it kind of became obvious to me the job your team had done and what it means for customers.”
The Question Now: Who’s Next?
When Tesla offered its plug to every automaker, it wasn’t clear that the company would also make its charging network available. Now that other companies know it may, they may follow Ford’s example.
Farley and Musk didn’t discuss financial terms of the deal or answer questions. So we don’t know what Ford gave Tesla to make this happen.
But, if you ran GM or Mercedes yesterday, you were frustrated that Tesla’s charging network gave it a massive competitive advantage. Today, you know you can even the field. And in the process, you can give buyers of your EVs access to the most common charger.
We’d be surprised if this isn’t the beginning of every EV adopting the same charger – a world of round holes and round nozzles for EV buyers at last.