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Elon Musk agrees to open parts of Tesla’s charging network to everyone

The best charging network in the country will no longer be totally under lock and key

Tesla will make 7,500 chargers available for all electric vehicles by the end of 2024. Above, a “Supercharger” station in Parsippany, N.J. (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)
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Tesla will open parts of its charging network to all drivers, the White House announced Wednesday, a move that could help reassure road-trip loving Americans that they can travel long distances in electric vehicles.

One of the necessities of an all-electric driving future is a reliable, fast charging network — one that stretches from Southern California to the rural reaches of Maine, covering busy interstates, quiet highways and city centers.

That charging network already exists. But it’s only been available to Tesla drivers — until now.

After intense lobbying from the Biden administration, which is pushing to build a national network of 500,000 EV chargers across the country, Tesla will make 7,500 chargers available for all electric vehicles by the end of 2024.

The federal government is working “to create a national network of chargers that will work for everyone, everywhere, no matter what type of car or state they’re in,” Mitch Landrieu, White House infrastructure coordinator, told reporters in a phone call.

The Biden administration is also issuing new rules for any chargers that receive federal funds to make these stations more accessible. New chargers will have to include consistent plug types, have 97 percent reliability and allow drivers to use a single method of identification that works across all chargers.

The changes will help speed the U.S. plan to create a network of fast chargers across the country. Since 2012, Tesla has been building out a network of fast “Superchargers” that now pepper the country, standing in such locales as grocery stores in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and shopping malls in Miami.

The company now has approximately 1,700 of these “DC fast” charging stations that host over 17,700 individual charging ports. (“DC fast” chargers can charge an electric car battery up to 80 percent in 20 minutes to an hour.) The company’s network is more than double the size of the closest competitor, Electrify America; it makes up about a quarter of all fast charging stations and more than half of all individual fast charging ports available in the United States today.

Until now, Tesla has had its own specific charging port and the Superchargers — at least those in North America — would only work if connected to a recognized Tesla vehicle. A driver of a Nissan Leaf or an electric Ford F-150 who came across a Supercharger station in the midst of a long road trip would find themselves simply out of luck. (Tesla has, as a trial, opened some stations in Australia and Europe.)

“It’s a bit like the Apple ecosystem for computers, chargers, and iPhones,” said Jay Friedland, legislative director of Plug In America, an EV advocacy group.

The opening of Tesla’s network comes after pressure from the Biden administration. Last month, The Washington Post previously reported, senior White House officials met with Elon Musk to urge the billionaire CEO of Tesla to make the network usable for non-Tesla drivers. The $7.5 billion the administration is preparing to spend on building out the network of EV chargers provided federal officials with additional leverage.

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The change will help electric vehicle drivers who struggle to find fast charging while on the road. But Tesla’s promise still leaves plenty of room for the electric vehicle maker to maintain proprietary control over its network. Tesla has only committed to opening up 3,500 fast chargers, or around 20 percent of the automaker’s overall fast charging fleet. The other 4,000 chargers could come from the automaker’s roughly 10,000 slower, “Level 2” chargers. EV owners will have to get a Tesla app or use the Tesla website to plug in.

That could keep one of Tesla’s most important competitive advantages alive. The Tesla Supercharger network has played a significant role in boosting sales of the company’s electric vehicles. While other car companies, like Nissan or General Motors, were trying to perfect the range of their EV batteries, Tesla was investing in both vehicles and their charging network. As three industry analysts wrote in the Harvard Business Review last year: “Tesla has been thinking about the entire vehicle system, with the aim of solving consumers’ core driving needs.”

Other car manufacturers and companies have recently jumped into the charging business. According to the White House announcement, Hertz and BP are also working on building a fast charging network, as are General Motors and the charging company EVgo. Ford has committed to building a fast charger at every one of its 1,920 Ford dealerships around the country.

But there is no ignoring the fact that Tesla has a gigantic head start on the rest of the field. Drivers of other electric vehicles have to wrestle with different types of charging ports — known by the confusing names of “CCS” and “CHAdeMO” — and different smartphone apps and cards for each charging system. Tesla drivers are purchasing access to chargers that aren’t blocked by long lines, don’t require subscriptions, and perhaps most importantly, function most of the time.

With the right incentives and rules — and a little help from Tesla itself — the White House hopes that all EV drivers can have the same experience.

“The president has said that the great American road trip is going to be electrified,” Landrieu said. “We’re well on our way.”

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