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Why Ford Betting on Tesla's Plug is Bad News
Why go with the global standard when you can roll proprietary?
"The great thing about standards is there's so many to choose from!"
- Greybeard engineer
That's my favorite joke from my software engineering days, one that I'm sure is older than me by decades and probably predates the invention of digital computers. The sad part is, it's a joke I've been able to use again even long after I left that career behind.
Today, I get to dust it off for the rather disheartening news that Ford is, seemingly, abandoning the single biggest global charging standard for its EVs, the standard that already defeated another major charging standard, the standard that finally, after years of confusion, aligned every major global EV manufacturer — well, except for one.
This change is a frustratingly bad move for consumers and I'll gladly tell you why, but first a little background.
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CCS is the Combined Charging System, a standard for EV chargers adopted by... basically everybody globally. CCS initially faced off against a Japanese standard called CHAdeMO, which derives from the phrase "How about a cup of tea?" in Japanese.
I formerly rooted for that standard thanks to that adorable reason alone, and indeed the best-selling EV once upon a time, the Nissan Leaf, made a strong case for CHAdeMO’s global adoption. But, it pretty quickly became clear that CCS was going to win the war and, when Nissan decided to put CCS and not CHAdeMO on the new Aria EV. we all breathed a sigh of relief.
The charger standard war was over!
Not so fast. Today, I'm going to tell you about a new standard dubbed "North American Charging Standard" that isn't actually so new. That's the formal term for what most of us, until today, knew simply as "the plugs that Tesla and nobody else use."
Tesla formally opened it up its proprietary plug late last year as “NACS” but, unsurprisingly, didn't really get any takers.
Today, the company that Elon bought reeled in a huge fish.
Ford announced adoption of the NACS standard in a big way. Starting soon, Ford will begin bundling adapters that allow current, CCS-equipped cars to use Tesla's Supercharger network.
More significantly, it sounds like post-2025 Ford will stop including CCS ports on their upcoming "Gen 2" cars. I have to be vague because Ford’s own release is unclear, but a Ford rep told Slashgear: "Gen 2 EVs with the NACS port will have the option of charging at CCS chargers with an adapter."
That, to me, reads like no more CCS plugs on future product. And that, to me, is a real bad move.
It is, admittedly, a move not totally lacking in merit. That same Ford representative messaged me a list of positives, including ports that are more durable, more temperature-resistant, and easier to handle.
They're also attached to Supercharger cables so short that an F-150 Lightning needs to park across three charging bays just to reach one.
NACS also theoretically supports charging at the mind-blowing rate of 1 megawatt, about 3X that of CCS. I’d take this more seriously if Ford had a history of making charging speed a priority. The F-150 Lightning, after all, can’t even charge at half of CCS's current maximum rate.
However, the biggest purported advantage of NACS is opening up Ford's cars to the Supercharger network. That is, without a doubt, the single best, most reliable network on the planet. But even that’s a positive of dubious merit. I’ll explain as we run through some negatives.
1 - Letting Tesla Off the CCS Hook
As you've surely heard, Tesla has already been opening up its network to any EV. Slowly. Reluctantly. It took a mighty big carrot from the Biden administration to make this happen. But it is happening, and given that, what’s the advantage in Ford adopting Tesla’s proprietary plug?
This could, though, prove to be a massive advantage for Tesla. This move will, I fear, encourage Tesla to stop or slow the rollout of its CCS-compatible Superchargers. After all, if NACS now a cross-brand standard, why kowtow to CCS?
2 - Confusing Customers
Ask anyone who was trying to explain EVs to curious consumers a decade ago how much fun it was. Chances are they have CHAdeMO PTSD much like many of us still twitch whenever someone mentions HD-DVD. Explaining competing charging standards is never much fun.
Congrats, because now we get to do it again. Until today, the explanation was “If you have a Tesla, it’s this. If you don’t, it’s this.” No more.
Additionally, we'll surely have other manufacturers questioning their CCS commitment, which is going to muddy the waters in a very unfortunate way.
If the goal is to ease the adoption of EVs, one manufacturer splitting its own product offerings across two standards is a decided step backwards, which brings me to...
3 - Alienating Ford’s Own Customers
Ford has already sold more than 150,000 Mach-Es. It plans to build that many F-150 Lightnings this year. Granted, this will ultimately be a small drop in the overall EV bucket soon, but that's a lot of customers for Ford to leave holding the wrong cable, fumbling with adapters.
That's not a great way to reward your most loyal early adopters.
4 - Bidirectionality
Ford went through great, great lengths to explain how the F-150 Lightning's bidirectional Charge Station Pro could not only power your house in an outage, but could even offset your power usage, recharging at night then running your AC unit during the day.
Now, it’s moving to a standard that has no support for bidirectional charging.
Musk did make a vague promise that it's coming "in the next two years, let's say," but I don't need to tell you how reliable these sorts of timelines tend to be.
I'm sure Ford will push to ensure there's something there by 2025, but to move from a standard that supports this to one that does not, especially when it was so key to the Lightning's marketing, is utterly perplexing to me.
Clear as Mud
To me, the biggest concern is muddying the waters. This isn't a USB-C cable for your iPhone. This isn't a weirdly shaped plug for that MIDI mixer you picked up in Amsterdam. This is a new vehicle purchase costing, on average, over $48,000 here in the U.S.
That is a major commitment for most consumers, and so getting people to commit that to a new technology like an EV is difficult enough. A mid-stream standard change, just when EVs are finally getting true momentum from major manufacturers, will only make salespersons' jobs harder and customers understandably more wary.
It's all frustrating to me and I'm genuinely very sorry to see it happen. Standards are good, but we really didn’t need another one here.