BMW, Nissan, Tesla reportedly talking about Supercharger platform collaboration

Tesla Motors appears to be in serious talks with at least two other automakers about electric car fast charging plans.  Th talks bring together the three automakers with the most credible electric car development:  BMW, Nissan and Tesla.  The content of their discussions are hush-hush, but we know it’s related to fast charging systems, and is coming in the context of Tesla’s opening of their patent portfolio.

Last Friday, Tesla Motors announced they would not sue other automakers who use Tesla’s patents, so long as those automakers act in “good faith”.  Elon Musk managed to make the announcement without revealing much about WHY Tesla made this move, except to underscore the urgency to speed up electric vehicle adoption in order to combat climate change.  The move was made in the context of other statements and indications that Tesla wants the other automakers to adopt the Supercharger for DC fast charging, rather than continue the CHAdeMO/CCS standards battle.  Therefore, I wrote up a deep dive thought piece on why or whether the other automakers would adopt Tesla’s Supercharger.

I came away from that post thinking it unlikely the other automakers would adopt Tesla’s Supercharger system.  Most of the automakers have made several statements underscoring the need for Fast Charging Standards, and therefore are likely to keep insisting on the SAE Combo Charging System (CCS).  But, there are some possibilities, such as adapters between Supercharger & CCS.

What do we precisely know about talks between BMW, Nissan and Tesla?  Very little.

Musk mentioned. during the patent announcement conference call, that a meeting with BMW the day before, and that one topic was collaboration around the Supercharger network.  This came immediately after Musk told another questioner that battery pack technology would be a great area for collaboration between Tesla and other automakers.

High speed charging in particular is a great area for commonality among manufacturers.

In fact, the team from BMW was visiting last night and we talked about potential ways to collaborate.  One of them was the Supercharger network.

We’re more than happy to have other manufacturers use our Supercharger network, or to build Superchargers and install them, and then maybe have some sort of cross-use agreement.

Our only requirement on Supercharging is that it has got to charge at high speed.  At least the 135 kilowatt level so that people have really convenient high speed charging.  And, that there’s some sort of reasonable cost share proportionate to useage of the respective vehicle fleet.
Musk then went on to reiterate that “Supercharging could be a great area for collaboration” and that it could be a “common industry platform.”  Musk has said similar things in the past, what’s new is that a major automaker, BMW, is talking with Tesla on this.  It also shows two areas of thought – a) other automakers using the Supercharger stations being built by Tesla Motors; b) developing it as a common platform shared among automakers, perhaps with a 3rd party installing Supercharger stations.

This would resolve some of the concerns I raised while doubting the other automakers would buy in.  If it’s Tesla’s proprietary system, the automakers seem less likely to buy in than if Supercharger became a common industry platform perhaps owned by a 3rd party.

What we know about Nissan’s involvement is much smaller, and comes from a Financial Times report (registration required) discussing the overall collaboration between BMW, Nissan and Tesla.

The Financial Times claims their sources say BMW, Nissan and Tesla are keen to collaborate on “creating possible global vehicle-charging standards”.  An unnamed executive at an unnamed manufacturer is quoted telling Financial Times “It is obviously clear that everyone would benefit if there was a far more simple way for everyone to charge their cars.”

BMW is quoted saying that both companies (BMW and Tesla) are “strongly committed to the success of electro-mobility” and that their meeting discussed ways to strengthen the electric vehicle market.

Leaf owners cannot use Supercharger -- incompatibilities

Nissan is quoted saying “Nissan welcomes any initiative to expand the volumes of electric vehicles. Nissan is the market leader in EVs and has worked with other manufacturers to help proliferate the technology.”

An agreement between these three companies to use the Supercharger platform would bring together three companies at the forefront of electric vehicle deployment.  Nissan has the largest market share at the moment, with half the global sales of electric vehicles.  Tesla Motors, while being an upstart in the automotive industry, has about 1/3rd of global electric vehicle sales.  BMW, while it has just launched sales of its first electric car, the BMW i3, has a long history behind it (the Mini-E and ActiveE test vehicles) and is ramping up i3 production for world-wide sales.

GM and Ford both have credible plug-in hybrid vehicles on the market, and are not part of these talks so far as is known.  VW has a pair of electric vehicles supporting CCS on the market, is making bold predictions that VW will be a major electric vehicle maker by 2017ish, but is apparently not part of these talks.

All we can say for sure is that BMW, Nissan and Tesla appear to be in some sort of talks leading to a common electric car fast charging system.  The result, we don’t know.  But if there were a common fast charging system the project of electric vehicle adoption would get a big boost.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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