Tesla Looks to Open Its EV-Charging Network

Source: By Jennifer Hiller, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Monday, July 25, 2022

The big electric-vehicle maker is applying for public dollars in the U.S. that would allow non-Tesla drivers to use its fast chargers

Tesla has a national network of charging stations, but they are only for its own vehicles.PHOTO: MARK FELIX FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Tesla Inc. TSLA -0.74% is trying to tap into public funding to build electric-vehicle chargers, as it moves to open some of its U.S. Supercharger network to EVs made by other manufacturers.

The EV-market leader is bidding for a portion of billions in federal and state dollars that are up for grabs in coming years as the Biden administration, auto makers and many states try to accelerate a fast-charger build-out along highways to reassure drivers that they can travel without fear of losing power.

Tesla already has a national network of fast chargers for its own drivers, but they aren’t available to other types of vehicles in the U.S. For a year, the company has said it plans to open its U.S. network to others, though details about timing and whether it would open existing stations or new ones have been sparse. Recent regulatory filings and other documents indicate that the company is applying for public funding that, if granted, would require access by other makers of EVs to the network.

In June, California’s energy-agency staff proposed awarding Tesla $6.4 million toward building chargers in rural areas, according to grant documents. The company also applied for charging grants in Texas last November, though it didn’t win funding there, which was given to the first companies that applied, other documents show.

According to a White House fact sheet in late June, Tesla will by year-end “begin production of new Supercharger equipment that will enable non-Tesla EV drivers in North America to use Tesla Superchargers.”

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment. Chief Executive Elon Musktweeted last year that the move would happen over time globally. Senior Vice President Andrew Baglino said in April that the company was still working toward that goal in the U.S. It launched a pilot program last year that allows non-Tesla drivers in parts of Europe to use its charging network.

The moves come as the Biden administration prepares to give states $7.5 billion for charging stations, money included in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year, and as states ready plans for how to build out their slice of a national charging network.

Tesla has 1,440 Supercharger sites with around 14,600 chargers for its drivers.Photo: Sergio Flores for The Wall Street Journal

Most EV owners charge at home over a period of several hours; fast chargers can repower EVs in around 30 minutes. They can be hard to find, though. The U.S. has fewer than 5,000 locations with 10,000 individual fast chargers that anyone can use, according to government data.

Tesla has been building its Supercharger network for several years and has a system popular with drivers that is considered easy to use. So far it has 1,440 sites with around 14,600 chargers for its drivers, who can also access other sites available to all kinds of EVs. The company doesn’t detail the cost of building its charging network or its revenue from charging in financial reports.

European EVs use a standard charging connector, but there are three types for fast charging in the U.S., including Tesla’s. In the U.S., Tesla would have to offer adapters to allow other kinds of cars to connect to its chargers; its drivers already can access other charging stations by using adapters.

“They’re going from a walled garden where they have complete control over the environment to when they start serving the general public, it’s 50 models,” said Nick Nigro of Atlas Public Policy, a Washington, D.C., research firm that tracks the EV market. “But they are well-positioned to be a really big provider of this service if they see that as a good business opportunity. They are really good at building charging infrastructure.”

Advocates for greater EV adoption say Tesla opening some of its new charging sites to other drivers won’t move the needle right away, but the need for public charging is overwhelming as states look to fill in big blank spots on the map of stations.

“Michigan will need about 10,000 fast chargers by 2030 to meet the state’s goal of 2 million electric vehicles,” said Sarah Nielsen, executive director of electric transportation at Michigan utility Consumers Energy Co. “So pretty much every little bit helps right now.” The state has around 225 fast chargers available to all drivers, according to federal data.

While federal infrastructure dollars won’t start to become available until later this year, Tesla sites in Willows, Barstow, Coalinga and Baker are among 17 likely winners of a California grant to help build public chargers. The California Energy Commission would have to approve the funding, possibly at an October meeting of the five commissioners, according to the agency.

Tesla was shut out of a Texas grant program last November that doled out $21 million on a first-come, first-served basis for highway fast chargers. The company’s applications had requested about $1.8 million but arrived too late—about three minutes after the grant opened, while winners scooped up the money in the opening minute, according to an open records request.

In Europe, Tesla charges a higher rate to non-Tesla drivers, though people can pay for a subscription that lowers the cost. The company would be able to do the same in the U.S., where different pricing levels already are prevalent because of charging-company memberships and loyalty programs. This month’s announcement that General Motors Co. GM 0.49% and Pilot Co. plan to build 2,000 fast-charging stalls at 500 Pilot and Flying J locations said GM drivers would be able to make reservations and get discounts.

Write to Jennifer Hiller at jennifer.hiller@wsj.com