Despite Elon Musk’s foolishness, auto industry shouldn’t give up on NACS

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk is causing chaos in the EV industry by firing Tesla’s entire charging team, which may lead some automakers to reconsider their plans to adopt the NACS plug. But NACS is just a better standard, and the industry should move forward on it, even if Tesla waffles with its commitment.

Last week, Tesla abruptly fired its entire Supercharging team, leading to an immediate pullback in Supercharger installation plans. The explanation we’ve heard for these firings is that CEO Elon Musk was unhappy with EV Charging lead Rebecca Tinucci for not firing enough people, and retaliated by suddenly firing her and her entire team.

The firing was so ill-considered that the company has even had to send out an email blast to suppliers and contractors, seemingly confused about which companies it’s even working with on site development.

The abrupt firing has caused a lot of chaos and reconsideration in the EV industry, with some automakers reportedly having meetings about whether to proceed with the planned NACS transition or pull back on their plans.

Currently, EVs from Ford and Rivian can charge on Tesla’s Supercharger network through adapters, but other automakers can’t yet. Tesla planned to roll out support to more brands this spring (GM, Volvo, Polestar), with more coming later. Virtually every brand has announced they will adopt NACS in the next couple years.

But this Supercharger rollout to other automakers will likely be slowed down, as the Supercharger team was the group responsible for onboarding other automakers, and for advancing the whole idea of NACS in the first place.

As a result there have been questions swirling about whether this could spell doom for NACS, potentially being an end to the standard as everyone switches back to CCS.

Is NACS going to die? It shouldn’t, here’s why

First, I don’t think NACS is going to die. Tesla will still use it, and is still the biggest EV brand in North America. While firing the whole team is a petty and incomprehensible move, I expect that the company will eventually come to its senses and hire some people back into that department, and continue to develop and install its charging system, though this will still be a huge setback.

The thing is – NACS is overall just a better standard than CCS. That’s why, when SAE certified the standard, we wrote that “it’ll fix every charging problem at once” (maybe not quite every problem, but close). The cable and connector are easier to use, its 277V support is better for commercial installations, its provision for carry-along cables is better for public infrastructure (especially street parking) and more interoperable with international receptacles.

Also, NACS is now out of Tesla’s hands. The SAE certification for NACS, which it calls J3400, is already finished. So it’s a real standard, and it’s a standard that Tesla no longer has control over. Other companies can make NACS ports and NACS chargers and all the technical information needed is out there and open for use. It’s only Supercharger network compatibility that is in Tesla’s hands (and if they want NEVI funds, they’re going to have to allow other brands to charge at their chargers).

And now that the whole industry already decided to convert to NACS (which is a tough thing to get everyone to agree on), it also puts to bed the format war that we might have had between Superchargers and CCS.

It would be one thing to convert from one standard to another and leave everyone out in the cold, but the industry has already started planning this conversion, and adapters are available. There will be a transition period where CCS and NACS chargers both remain available, so most people shouldn’t have trouble finding a charge.

But it does make sense to collapse down to one standard, and it makes sense to collapse down to the better one.

And so, rumors that manufacturers are considering reversing their NACS transition plans will hopefully not come true. Manufacturers should continue forward in transitioning and getting NACS ports on their vehicles as soon as possible, third parties should focus primarily on installing NACS chargers to pick up the slack left by Tesla’s pullback (with some CCS during the transitionary period), and Tesla should rehire a division to ensure that the transition goes smoothly (you already had one and firing them was stupid).

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