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Tesla Model 3 could set the charging standard for electric vehicles

Electric vehicles and charging infrastructure always had a ‘chicken and egg’ problem. What comes first? The electric vehicles or the charging stations. As with most things, the truth lies between the two. Both the global EV fleet and charging networks have grown side-by-side.

But it has led to different charging standards emerging in different regions. There’s still no clear winner, but that could be about to change.

Tesla’s Model 3 is on its way to becoming the first electric vehicle mass-produced by the hundred of thousands per year and it could make the vehicle highly influential in the charging industry.

If the company’s production ramp up of the Model 3 is executed to plan, the vehicle would become the most popular all-electric car globally within 12 to 18 months.

The global Model 3 fleet would be larger than Nissan’s Leaf fleet, BMW’s i3 fleet, or even Tesla’s own Model S and X fleet, which have all been growing for years.

Tesla’s own Supercharger network and Destination network are likely to remain the primary source for charging, outside of home charging, but the independent networks, which currently represent the majority of charging stations are always looking to support the most popular electric vehicles.

Legacy automakers developing electric vehicles have been heavily relying on those independent charging networks, like EVgo and Blink, which can create complicated relationships between automakers, owners, and the networks.

Most of those independent networks support different types of charging standards with SAE J1772 being the standard for level 2 charging and Combined Charging System (CCS) for DC fast-charging in North America. In Japan and Europe, the CHAdeMO charging standard for fast-charging has historically been more popular, but its future is uncertain at this point with several automakers joining the CCS standard.

Tesla has been using its own standard to support level 1, 2, and 3 on the same connector – except in Europe where it’s obligated to use the standard Mennekes plug. It is often regarded as a more simple and elegant solution. Here are all the different connectors:

The company has been relying on a series of adapters in order for Tesla owners to have access to charging stations other than Tesla’s.

While it is widely believed that Tesla will use the same standard for the upcoming Model 3, the company has yet to confirm it.

The charge ports on the Model 3 release candidates spotted so far have always been closed and the access latch doesn’t tell us much about it:

Tesla has been rapidly growing its Supercharger network in anticipation of the Model 3 and the new stations have so far only featured Tesla’s standard connector.

Interestingly, Tesla also quietly joined the CharIN organization as a core member to promote the CCS standard last year. The organization has 3 main goals:

  • To develop and establish the Combined Charging System (CCS) as the standard for charging battery-powered electric vehicles of all kinds
  • To draw up requirements for the evolution of charging-related standards and develop a certification system for use by manufacturers implementing the CCS in their products
  • To promote the CCS standard worldwide

Tesla’s Supercharger standard currently has a capacity of up to 145 kW, but the vehicles are capped at ~120 kW. The CCS standard currently has a capacity of up to 200 kW though no station currently offers that kind of power nor does any electric vehicle would be able to receive it.

But it offers room for improvements for future vehicles, including a path to a 350 kW power output, which could charge a long-range vehicle in minutes instead of an hour on the current best DC fast-charging stations.

The Model 3 could become one of the first vehicles capable of taking higher power outputs from these upcoming new charging stations due to the new 2170 battery cells that Tesla and Panasonic designed – though it’s a rumor that remains unconfirmed at this point.

CEO Elon Musk also threw something else into the mix that complicates things. When I questioned him about the future capacity of Tesla’s Superchargers, he suggested that the upcoming “version 3” of Tesla’s fast-charging station could have an output greater than 350 kW.

The CCS standard currently doesn’t plan a capacity over 350 kW, which makes it sound like Tesla has its own vision for charging beyond promoting CCS as a core member of CharIN. Regardless of what standard connector the Model 3 ends up using, it’s likely to become the most popular standard if Tesla delivers on its production plans.

What do you think the Model 3’s impact will be on charging standards and infrastructure? Let us know in the comment section below.

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