BMW Goes NACS, Leaving VW & Stellantis As The Odd Ones Out
In a recent press release, BMW revealed that, like much of the rest of the industry, it’s going to adopt the NACS plug in North America. With most of the rest of the German automakers doing the same thing, this leaves Volkswagen Group (owners of not only VW, but also Porsche, Audi, and others) as the odd one out among German automakers. Stellantis out among the “Big 3”.
How We Got Here
Before I discuss what’s probably going to happen here, let’s talk about how we got here so that we can understand the trends involved. Most of these trends are still strong, but they might not be as eternal as some think they are.
The sudden change of most of the industry to the NACS standard happened fast. It all started last year with a tiny, tiny crack in the dam holding CCS back. Aptera, the company working toward making a streamlined two-seat EV that’s at least partially solar powered, had a design problem. The company didn’t have room at the back of the car to put a CCS connector without losing efficiency and range (and its biggest selling point). From the beginning, Aptera’s engineers wanted to use Tesla’s connector back there, but Tesla hadn’t announced that anyone else would be allowed to use it.
So, Aptera started a petition, which proved popular with Tesla fans, asking the government to make Tesla’s plug the U.S. standard (something the government couldn’t really do). But, in response, Tesla eventually announced an open design, renaming it the North American Charging Standard (NACS). This was when behind-the-scenes negotiations for Supercharger network access became possible. [Editor’s note: It’s also possible Tesla did this not because of Aptera but in order to qualify for federal EV subsidies for charging stations. —Zach]
Meanwhile, all of the other automakers had a big problem: charging reliability. Electrify America’s stations were getting worse as more EV drivers put strain on the oldest hardware. Other charging companies were having reliability problems for different reasons (often getting replacement parts and people to work on them). This was starting to seriously threaten their EV plans, and the governments involved made it pretty clear that they weren’t going to be able to back out of switching to EVs.
So, the manufacturers had to get access to Tesla’s charging network. This seems obvious in hindsight, but before it happened, it wasn’t a serious thought outside of Tesla fandom. The rest of us thought that “not invented here” and fears of letting Tesla control the charging network would probably keep other automakers on CCS.
Ford was the first producing automaker to make the switch, and that happened only five months ago. This left everyone else relying on busted infrastructure, so other automakers, one by one, were forced to make the same move. Since then, basically everyone has done it. Of the U.S. “Big 3” automakers, two have announced a switch to NACS starting in 2025 (Stellantis has not announced this as of this writing). Several Japanese automakers have made the same announcement, including Nissan (abandoning LEAF owners to a dwindling charging network). And, most recently, Mercedes-Benz and now BMW have made the announcement.
Details on BMW’s Announcement
Before I get into what happens next, let’s take a look at details of BMW’s announcement.
As with other companies, the rollout of NACS-native BMW vehicles will begin only in 2025. Vehicles currently on the road from BMW’s brands (including MINI) and 2024 buyers will get an adapter that will give them access to Tesla’s Supercharger network.
“With six fully electric BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce models now available in the U.S. market, and more to come, it is our top priority to ensure that our drivers have easy access to reliable, fast charging,” said Sebastian Mackensen, President & CEO, BMW of North America. “This agreement is the latest in our longstanding and continued effort to expand charging options for our customers as we continue on the road to electrification.”
This announcement doesn’t affect plans to join several other automakers to build a better charging network in the United States and Canada.
What About The Remaining Holdouts?
Of automakers in the Unites States, this leaves two holdouts: Volkswagen Group and Stellantis. It may seem like a foregone conclusion that these last holdouts will have no choice but to go with NACS, but it’s not a sure thing at this point. I’m not saying I think they’ll stick with CCS, but I’m not sure that they would go NACS, either.
Let’s look at some of the reasons I think the water is muddy on this.
First off, the big driver of NACS adoption isn’t aesthetics. If the automakers were concerned with aesthetics for charging plugs, they wouldn’t have ever adopted CCS1. The real driver for this was unreliable charging experiences. By 2025, this problem could largely be solved. The United States government is spending $100M on the issue, and even automakers switching to NACS have announced that they’re still going to build their own network to not rely on Tesla too much.
CCS is still very much alive now. It’s also true that Volkswagen has a big mostly-CCS charging network and all manufacturers’ EVs are CCS on the road now (with the big exception of some Japanese cars, especially the Nissan LEAF). This installed base of both CCS chargers and cars still puts a lot of weight behind CCS. Other automakers will sell a bunch of CCS EVs in 2024, and the NEVI stations for the next few years will be a mix of CCS and CCS/NACS.
So, we still really don’t know whether VW and Stellantis will go NACS. There’s lots of pressure to do so, but no guarantee that they’ll do it. With many more charging stations that provide CCS still on the way, it’s still very much possible for VW and Stellantis EVs to be viable on CCS. With reliability problems under a serious, well-funded repair effort, the CCS network will be more reliable than it is today.
Once again, I’m not saying it’s guaranteed that these last holdouts will continue to hold out. I’m only pointing out that they’re not utterly screwed if they don’t adopt NACS and sign a deal with Tesla. Not having access to most of the Supercharger network (Tesla’s NEVI sites are going to be CCS/NACS via Magic Dock) is still a big thing that could push them to change their minds.
Featured image provided by BMW.
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