The news that Tesla will open up its proprietary Supercharging network to drivers of other electric vehicles is a hugely important development for the EV industry, but there are many questions about how the transition will be achieved. During the company’s Q2 earnings conference call, Elon Musk released some more details about Tesla’s plans (and took a little shot at another high-tech company that’s not known for opening up its networks).
“It is our goal to support the advent of sustainable energy,” Musk said. “It is not to create a walled garden and use that to bludgeon our competitors, which is sometimes used by some companies.” As reported by CNBC, Musk then did the old fake-throat-clearing routine and coughed, “Apple!”
Musk explained that non-Tesla EV owners will be able to use the Tesla smartphone app to manage and pay for their charging sessions: “We are thinking about a real simple thing where you just download the Tesla app, you go to the Supercharger, you just indicate which stall you are in, you plug in your car, even if it’s not a Tesla, and you just access the app to tell it, ‘turn on the stall that I’m in for how much electricity,’ and this should work for almost any manufacturer’s electric car.”
It’s a diabolically clever idea. What company has ever found a way to get its competitors’ customers to download its app? Given the ubiquity of the Supercharger network, non-Tesla drivers will have every incentive to sign up for an account, and once they do, they’ll get firsthand experience of how the Tesla ecosystem works, while giving Tesla access to their contact info.
The real beauty of the scheme is that it requires no buy-in from the other automakers. Tesla can easily make its Superchargers available to anyone with a CCS connector (it has already retrofitted CCS plugs to European Superchargers, and has now confirmed plans to make an adapter available in the US). Other EV-makers may not like the arrangement, but they can’t stop their customers from downloading the Tesla app.
Predictably, many current Tesla owners are against the move to open up (check out some of the nasty comments on Musk’s earlier tweet) and they do have a point. In some areas, both Supercharger and non-Tesla charging sites are already overcrowded. Musk confirmed that Tesla plans to introduce dynamic pricing at heavily-used stations in order to encourage shorter charging sessions.
Tesla’s motives may not be entirely altruistic. Opening up the Superchargers may not only be a way to lure some customers away from other brands—it may also unlock billions in government subsidies.
This certainly seems to be the case in Norway and in Sweden, where Tesla has been talking to local governments about taking advantage of incentives for which only charging stations that serve all EVs are eligible. Here in the US, the proposed Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework includes $7.5 billion in funding for a national charging network, and the administration has made it clear that only charging networks that are open to all EVs will be getting the goodies.