Tesla Motors electric cars use a proprietary charging plug. Adapters are available from Tesla Motors allowing owners of their cars to use public charging stations built with standard charging plugs (J1772, Mennekes, CHAdeMO). Tesla Motors is also deploying charging stations, both fast charging and destination charging, to locations around the world that are meant to support owners of Tesla Motors’ cars.
Because these charging stations use a proprietary plug, owners of other kinds of electric cars cannot use the charging stations built by Tesla Motors. It is Tesla’s choice to do this, resulting in a duplication of effort as parallel charging infrastructure is built. Tesla Motors is building their proprietary charging infrastructure, and a cluster of other companies are building charging infrastructure using standardized (non-proprietary) charging plugs.
To an extent this is all fine – Tesla Motors and their customers are choosing what they’re choosing, and they have every right to do so. However, it also means that owners of Tesla’s cars can use the non-proprietary standardized charging network, but it’s not a two-way-street. Those of us with cars with the non-proprietary standardized charging plugs cannot use a Tesla charging station.
Or, can we?
UPDATE: This article was originally written in November 2015 and covered a prototype adapter allowing a J1772 car to charge at a Tesla HPWC station. At the time we thought nobody would ever make a product for sale.
As of March 2019 at least two companies are selling Tesla HPWC/UMC/DestinationCharger to J1772 adapters as products. With these adapters the whole Tesla Destination Charger network becomes available.
J1772 adapter for Tesla HPWC stations
This video shows a BMW i3 connected to a Tesla Motors HPWC charging station (HPWC === High Power Wall Charger). Normally a J-1772 car cannot do this, because no adapter exists for this combination.
An adapter letting a Tesla car charge off J1772 stations does exist. What doesn’t exist is an adapter for the other direction. Well, except, this video does show such an adapter.
Let’s be clear since there is some confusion:
- This adapter supports Level 2 AC charging, not DC Fast Charging.
- This adapter would work for any car with a J1772 port, not just the BMW i3.
- This is a prototype unit, and in the comments over on YouTube the fellow makes it clear it’s still in development.
- That this video is shot in front of a Tesla Store indicates he had to have made some kind of agreement with the store manager to do this.
That last point refers to a sticky issue if one gets pretty pedantic about who’s paying for what, and whether this video constitutes evidence of theft from Tesla Motors.
Tesla built and installed that charging station on their property, that’s pretty clear. It has a sign saying those charging stations are solely for owners of Tesla’s automobiles. The BMW i3 owner may or may not have gotten permission from the store manager.
Tesla’s proprietary HPWC charging network
Tesla Motors has shipped HPWC stations out to hundreds of destination locations – hotels, restaurants, etc – over the last couple years. Go to the PlugShare website or smart phone app, set the filters to show HPWC stations, and browse around. The HPWC network is extensive, and seems to fill in gaps in Tesla’s Supercharger network. Tesla Motors hasn’t said publicly (to my knowledge) whether the company is bearing the whole cost for the public HPWC charging network, or whether host sites are bearing some of the cost.
At an HPWC charging station, who pays the cost for the charging session?
These stations have no built-in capability to charge a fee for a charging session. No credit card swiper, etc. The way Tesla Motors has ensured the HPWC network is only used by Tesla Motors customers is via the proprietary charging plug. But a freely purchasable adapter, like we see in this video, would upturn that assumption.
If this adapter is purchasable by the public, there could be tens of thousands of electric car owners wanting to buy one. There might be a feeding frenzy of non-Tesla EV owners descending upon Tesla’s network of proprietary HPWC charging stations.
“Theirs” and “Ours”
Those of us with non-Tesla cars may say “turnabout is fair play”. Model S car owners have been using “our” charging infrastructure for years, but we haven’t been able to use “theirs”.
Is it “fair play”? Or would we be stealing from Tesla Motors by having such an adapter? And, isn’t there a problem with the “theirs” versus “ours” mentality?
The real problem isn’t whether we’d be stealing from Tesla Motors. Instead it’s the parallel charging infrastructure being built by the companies involved.
- J1772 Level 2 charging stations aren’t equally available to all EV owners.
- There are many ways access is limited – some stations are “employee only”, others locked down to members of specific charging networks, some are operated by car dealerships who prevent open access, etc
- Multiple incompatible DC fast charge protocols (CHAdeMO, CCS, SuperCharger, etc)
- Incompatible Tesla-proprietary charging plug and charging network
What if the companies building charging infrastructure were to jointly work together to build a system that’s open to all electric car owners? There would be no “theirs” versus “ours”, because it would all be “ours”.
The Network Effect
There’s a business model called “The Network Effect” which says the value of a “network” increases with the number of connections to that network. Meaning that the public electric car charging network would be made more valuable the more people that could use it.
Instead, we have a hodgepodge of charging networks that don’t form a cohesive whole. Instead they act like independent fiefdom’s that throw up access barriers around their charging stations. The symptom of the problem is that we must make membership relationships with all our local charging networks.
Multiple membership cards is a problem, not a solution.
Do we have this problem when driving a gasoline powered car? Nope. Buying gasoline is as simple as a credit card swipe or paying cash. The network of gasoline stations is open to all car owners, and is therefore much more valuable than if the gasoline stations were branded to specific car manufacturers who installed proprietary fueling ports.
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