Will Tesla's high-speed charging advantage soon disappear?

The Tesla Supercharger network is an amazing asset for the automaker. Ever since Tesla started installing Superchargers in late 2012, its customers had something that EV drivers from any other brand didn't, and it really enriched the whole Tesla ownership experience.

Every time there was a report about the next "Tesla killer" that was supposedly in development by one of the legacy manufacturers, the Tesla faithful could simply say: "Even if it does get made, it really doesn't matter how good it is if you don't have a supercharger network" and they were right. For years, no EV from any other company could charge at more than 50 kW like Tesla were capable of. Even if the vehicles could, there were no stations other than Tesla Superchargers that could deliver even close to the 100kW that Tesla owners were happily charging at.

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The Tesla Supercharger network is so good, and such an advantage for Tesla, that I've had people tell me that while they'd prefer to get an EV from another brand, they just had to go with Tesla because of the network. In my opinion, it's not only been great for Tesla's customers, but the Supercharger network is also a shining example of what could be accomplished if a properly-funded company had the desire to do so. Building out a nationwide DC fast charge network seemed like such a monumental task until Tesla showed everyone that it can be done and in a relatively short number of years. 

Enter Electrify America. Born out of the Volkswagen diesel settlement, Electrify America has $2 billion dollars to spend on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and education over a ten year period. The ten years is split into four thirty-month cycles, and the first of the four cycles is about to end on June 30th, 2019. They are currently rolling out a nationwide network of high speed 150-350kW DC fast charge stations, and are only about 2 1/2 years into their ten-year plan. 

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InsideEVs recently had an opportunity to visit Electrify America's Reston, Virginia headquarters, to participate in a technology workshop they called "Charge Forward". (Travel & food expenses for the trip were paid for by Electrify America) There we learned that Electrify America would soon be launching a new smartphone app, they will be offering ISO 15118 Plug&Charge technology within the next couple months, and they will also be reducing their pricing by about 20%. Plug&Charge technology will allow their users the same level of convenience that Tesla owners enjoy at Superchargers. The user just plugs the car in and walks away; there's no need to swipe a card in order to activate the charging session, as the station will authenticate and bill you automatically.

 

However, one of the most interesting things discussed was how rapidly Electrify America is now installing new DC fast charge sites. The first Electrify America site was commissioned on May 2nd, 2018, and a year later they had more than 150 sites open to the public. Electrify America CEO Goivanny Palazzo even explained that they have just begun to ramp up the speed of which they open new sites, and that they will have 484 sites, with more than 2,000 DC fast charger stalls completed and open to the public by the end of 2019 - only 20 months time from the opening of their very first site. 

To put that into perspective, Tesla didn't open their 484th Supercharger site in North America until December 15th 2017, five years after installing their first superchargers in late 2012. To be fair, during that time Tesla was also opening Superchargers in Europe and Asia. However, even if you count worldwide Supercharger locations, Tesla didn't open their 484th location until October 5th 2015, about 33 months after their first Supercharger site. In Europe, Ionity is rolling out its version of what Electrify America is doing in the US. 

According to the site supercharge.info, Tesla currently has 714 Supercharger sites in North America. In the past two years, they have opened roughly 150 Supercharger locations per year, so they certainly aren't resting on their previous accomplishments. Additionally, Tesla averages about 8 Supercharger stalls per location, while Electrify America averages only five. Electrify America did say that most of the locations were upgradable and can add more stations when the demand suggests they are needed.

If both Electrify America and Tesla maintain the same pace of DC fast charge sites, Electrify America will match Tesla's site location total in the US sometime in 2021. By that time, the number of non-Tesla DC fast charge sites will actually be much greater than Supercharger locations because Electrify America isn't the only network installing DC fast infrastructure. EVgo currently operates over 1,050 DC fast charge stations in over 700 locations, and other EV charging networks like ChargePoint and Greenlots have expanding networks, respectively. However, unlike Electrify America, many of these stations are limited to 50 kW, and most of the locations only have 1 or 2 stations, so they aren't following the same high-speed, multiple-stall blueprint that EA and Tesla are. 

So is this bad news for Tesla? Yes and no. Even if their Supercharger network advantage begins to disappear, they still have a competitive advantage with their vehicles, although the competition is getting better. Before the end of 2019, there will be no less than eight non-Tesla all-electric cars with more than 200 miles of range. In 2018 there was only one, the Bolt EV. (I'm not counting the I-Pace in 2018 because it was only available very late in the year, and Jaguar delivered less than 400 of them). 

Now that the legacy OEMs are beginning to up their game in the EV space, and high-speed DC fast infrastructure is really shaping up, the Tesla advantage is slipping. Add to that the loss of the federal tax credit in January, 2020, and for the first time ever, the gap between Tesla and everybody else will begin to narrow. 

On the plus side for Tesla owners, Tesla already sells a CHAdeMO adapter and has just released a CCS adapter for the European market. While Tesla hasn't officially commented, most people expect them to offer one for the North American market also. With the ever-expanding Electrify America network, it's hard to imagine why Tesla wouldn't also offer the CCS adapter for North America. Tesla owners in North America would then have access to roughly 2,000 Supercharger and Electrify America sites, with somewhere around 13,000 stalls by the end of 2021.

So even though Tesla will soon lose the exclusivity of having the only nationwide high-speed EV charging network, their customers will most likely be able to use stations on any network, while the non-Tesla vehicles will still be excluded from using Superchargers. Therefore, Tesla owners will be a big winner here also.  

In the video above, I discuss this topic with Alex of E For Electric, in our weekly show, "Plugged In with Tom Moloughney". Do you think having a competing DC fast charge network takes some of the shine off of the Tesla emblem, or if you're more inclined to take the position that "the rising tide raises all ships (or in this case all EVs)" Let us know what you think in the comment section below.