If you ask Pasquale Romano, the U.S. electric vehicle charging world is about to have an iPhone 15 moment.
Arguably the most significant change coming to Apple’s ubiquitous smartphone is that it’s finally getting a USB-C charging cable, the same as countless other devices, instead of Apple’s proprietary Lightning cable. The same could be said soon of EV drivers everywhere in America as Tesla’s North American Charging Standard (NACS) plug seems set to become the dominant charging technology here within a few years.
You may think this is something Romano, the CEO of charging equipment provider ChargePoint, would be worried about. Far from it, he told InsideEVs in a recent interview.
“In all honesty, it’s a shame the industry has waited this long,” Romano said. “Personally, I actually think it's a travesty that this didn't go down like it did in Europe, where just by law, you had to have a single connection type. It should not have taken to this point.”
In other words, Romano said, the charging industry has been waiting on some clarity as to where things are going, because it also doesn’t want to take part in some kind of format war between NACS and the Combined Charging System (CCS) standard that’s currently more the norm. But with now more than a dozen major automakers making a switch to Tesla’s plug instead – even the BMW Group announced the change this week – Romano said the market has spoken instead.
But it’s a change that he says ChargePoint, which until now has specialized in CCS equipment, is ready for. The Bay Area-based company announced today that it is starting the rollout of new chargers that use both the CCS plugs and NACS plugs in one place, and offering upgrades to the owners of that equipment. ChargePoint’s revenue comes from the sale of its charging infrastructure and maintenance contracts for them, not from customers paying for electricity. It also sells its software to a number of other charging entities.
Future equipment will come with two plugs: one for CCS, and one for NACS. That way any car that parks in front of a ChargePoint station should be accommodated, Romano said. “If you see ChargePoint, it’ll just work with your car,” he said.
“We do not want our customers to have to dedicate a parking space to a connector type,” Romano said. “You'll never get the ratio right, and that ratio will change over time. We have a solution that doesn't make you have to pick.”
It's a lot to do for ChargePoint, which, according to data from EVAdoption, is the biggest public charging network with nearly 50,000 U.S. stations. Tesla's Supercharger network comes in second place, but unlike Tesla, the vast majority of ChargePoint stations are still Level 2 destination chargers and not DC fast chargers. But that market is growing too. ChargePoint also said this rollout will mean “the first public DC fast charging alternative to the Tesla Supercharger network” on NACS, which will be a benefit to Tesla drivers looking for options too and the scores of new EVs that will use that plug standard from about 2025 onward.
ChargePoint also recently announced a $232 million capital raise to support its “path to profitability,” which Romano claims is on track to happen in Q4 2024.
Romano has served as ChargePoint’s CEO since 2011. But like EVs have had to do since then, charging is growing from a niche gasoline alternative to a crucial part of future transportation infrastructure currently backed by billions of dollars in federal grants alone. It’s having a moment, and Romano said he wants ChargePoint – a relatively early player in this space – to keep up and stay relevant. He insisted that ultimately, the NACS takeover isn’t that big of a deal to charging providers.
“It’s just a plastic shape,” he said. “It’s pretty cost-effective to support both at the same time, given how much a fast charger costs on the AC side.” He also added that between the scores of EVs on the road now that use CCS plugs and will need them for years and decades to come, and the fact that Europe has mandated use of the CCS plug, the standard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Hence, the two-pronged approach here.
“The auto OEMs have already spoken the overwhelming majority of them have already said they're not going to support [CCS in America] post-2025,” Romano said. “But for us, we don't want our customers, which ultimately the station owners, to have to be planners and pick which is which. So if you use ChargePoint’s solution, we're gonna have a solution for you that basically supports both connected types, in a single parking space.”
A spokesperson for the company added that conversion kits for current units start around $200 and go up to about $3,000, depending on the speeds and equipment involved.
Realistically, the third-party charging industry had no choice but to make these moves. In fact, the widespread adoption of NACS has been pushed largely because automakers – starting with Ford earlier this year – have gotten increasingly fed up with the lack of reliability and availability of chargers. The automotive industry doesn’t really want to be in the fueling (or charging) business, but unlike the gas stations that built up over a century, EV charging hasn’t really stepped up. Since they can’t beat Tesla on the charging front, automakers are simply joining it instead.
“Uptime” continues to be a challenge for charging companies; one study from last year said that even in the Bay Area, where EVs are everwhere, more than a quarter of public chargers were non-functional. That problem is widely cited as a barrier to EV adoption.
ChargePoint, it’s probably fair to say, hasn’t exactly been the poster child for uptime. Nearly every EV driver has encountered a ChargePoint charger that works too slowly, is unresponsive, or is just completely dead. But that’s something the company’s been trying to make inroads on too recently, adding an operations center for around-the-clock station monitoring, keeping track of more social posts complaining of broken units, and, Romano added, encouraging more property owners to opt into its more comprehensive maintenance and support package.
“I think it's incumbent on us to basically drive our own policies to make sure that especially for public-facing stuff… a random individual that's going to count on it,” Romano said. “That's the kind of stuff that we're investing very heavily in, in terms of the physical uptime. I think it's more of making sure that a customer on the initial sale understands what they're getting into and are really committed."
But that does put ChargePoint in direct competition with Tesla’s Supercharger stations, which are known for their uptime and quality as well as abundance on the roads. There, again, Romano said having NACS ports everywhere, including when people charge at the office or at shopping destinations, is going to just be a value add for drivers no matter what the logo on the station might be.
"In a world where NACS is supported by us and everyone else, the consumer will pick what they want to avail themselves of while they're stopped," Romano said. "We have to be everywhere because businesses want to work with us. That's the competitive angle. if we're a better company to work with for that business, then that's what the business will put in and their patrons won't have to pick."