100 Questions about Electric Vehicles

By David Herron

Last Update: July 17, 2019

Tesla has developed a widely deployed electric car charging network, that only works for cars built by Tesla. This is good for Tesla, but it does not help those of us who do not own Tesla cars. We might see a marker in the PlugShare app, drive to that location, only to be confused by the charging connector, and unable to charge our car. Bottom line is that non-Tesla electric cars cannot use Tesla charging stations, but there are some fine points to consider. In some cases we can use an adapter to access some Tesla charging stations.

Tesla's charging connector and charging protocol has been proprietary to Tesla, and Tesla has not allowed non-Tesla automakers knowledge about either. This would be like Daimler deciding that Mercedes-Benz cars would use a proprietary fueling nozzle, that only existed at Daimler-owned gasoline stations. The proprietary nozzle might offer some extra convenience to users, but the effect would be that owners of these cars could only refuel at the Daimler-owned stations.

None of the traditional automakers have done anything like this. Instead fueling nozzles for gasoline and diesel cars are standard across all automakers. Any gasoline or diesel car owner can drive up to any refueling station and buy fuel.

You might be talking back at me about the last two paragraphs. Didn't Tesla make their patents available for any automaker to use? Hasn't Tesla offered to collaborate with the other automakers on their charging system? Yes, Tesla has done those two things, but have those steps made any real difference? Scroll down for more about these points. For the sake of discussion just note that indeed, Tesla's charging cord is unique to Tesla, and no non-Tesla car can access the Supercharger network.

The issue is actually more complex than this. That's because Tesla has three different charging networks:

  • Destination charger network: In some countries Tesla has installed single-phase AC charging equipment called Destination Chargers. While these still use a Tesla-proprietary charging plug, it's possible for non-Tesla cars to access the destination chargers. Read on to learn more.
  • Supercharger network outside the EU: The Supercharger network is Tesla's proprietary 120 kiloWatt (being upgraded to 250 kiloWatt) DC fast charging network. It is widely deployed on several continents. Tesla has designed this system so owners of Tesla cars can easily make long distance drives. The connector used outside the EU is proprietary to Tesla, period.
  • Supercharger network inside the EU: Inside EU countries, Tesla has begun converting the Supercharger stations to use CCS2 plugs. Non-Tesla cars cannot use the Supercharger stations even though they have CCS2 plugs. However, Tesla cars in the EU can use CCS2 charging stations without an adapter.
All charging plugs used by electric cars worldwide. The non-EU plug used by Tesla is on the far right. In the EU, Tesla is using the plugs shown in the column marked "EU".

Non-Tesla cars charging at the Tesla destination charger network by using an adapter

All Tesla cars can charge with single phase AC through adapters. For example Tesla cars are sold with a J1772 adapter so that Tesla cars can charge at public charging stations, and they're all supplied with the Universal Mobile Connector to recharge from regular power outlets.

Tesla destination chargers are the same idea as the Tesla UMC, but designed to be installed in a public location like a hotel or restaurant. The site owner arranges with Tesla to install destination charging stations, and Tesla car owners can use those stations for free.

Tesla obviously means for the destination chargers to be a free perk for Tesla car owners. However ingenious people outside Tesla are selling custom designed adapters so that owners of non-Tesla cars can recharge via destination chargers. For more information, see Safely use Extension Cords when charging an electric car or electric motorcycle

Tesla offered their patents to others - Tesla offered Supercharger to others

Yes, Tesla has done both of those things. Here's a few news articles I've written that should prove I am aware that Tesla said all those things.

For Tesla to open its patents to other automakers is an interesting move. However, what Tesla did NOT do was to "open source" their patent portfolio. The phrase "open source" has a specific meaning, and Tesla's patent policy is not open source. For example, "open source" means that the recipient is free to redistribute modified versions of the thing for free with zero restrictions. In this case, Tesla clearly owns the patents, and has said that if another company were to violate some unstated terms of reasonableness then Tesla would file a lawsuit. Therefore there is a restriction or two, and it is not open source.

But that's a quibble over details. The bigger point is that a patent is not enough to implement a technology. Patents are a generalized description of some technology, and do not contain precise implementation details. That's because patents are written to be broad so that the patent could apply to many different implementations of the idea.

As for Tesla's offer to car-makers to join the Supercharger network -- Why would an incumbent car-maker do that? As I see it, the incumbent automakers want to sideline Tesla, downplay Tesla's importance, etc. The last thing an incumbent automaker would do is give Tesla a huge gift in the form of validating that the Tesla Supercharger network is better than the open standard public fast charging network.

The automakers all participated in automotive industry standards groups to design the standardized charging system for electric cars. Tesla is involved in that standards group as well. The automakers have all collaborated on all kinds of cross-industry standards, and the automotive industry as a whole benefits from those standards that are implemented across the board.

Why would the automakers negate the electric car charging standards they worked together to create?

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.
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