Tesla’s EV plug is great, but smoother payments is the improvement we desperately need

Tesla

This finally happened. Until now, we had several different types of connectors on electric vehicles, but everyone eventually switched to one connector. The NACS connector, invented by Tesla, will become the dominant (or only) charging connector on electric vehicles in North America.

But connectors are actually only part of the story if we want better EV charging. This is important, but to create a truly comfortable charging experience, software is just as important as hardware.

What is Plug & Charge

these days, unless you own a Tesla, charging your electric car isn’t as convenient as it should be. Often, you’ll stop at a charging station, plug in the charging cable, fiddle with the charging station’s app, try using tap and pay, and hope it all works well enough to charge your car.

Tesla Cars on Superchargers
Tesla/Tesla

But apparently not own becomes very difficult — and in some cases, it isn’t. It’s 2023, and technology should be working together more smoothly. There are actually standards to make this happen. Plug & Charge (also known as ISO 15118) was created to safely enable handshakes between cars and charging stations, identify users and validate payments, all without you having to do anything. All you need to do is connect the charging cable to your car, and your car will handle the rest.

Tesla Effect

Of course, this kind of technology may sound familiar. Most Teslas have worked this way since the beginning. Unfortunately, Tesla doesn’t use the ISO 15118 specification exactly, and instead uses its own auto-charging technology to allow cars and charging stations to communicate with each other. But Tesla included the possibility of using ISO 15118 in the NACS standard, so car companies that adopt the new connector can also implement Plug & Charge technology, if they wish.

Tesla is actually not the only one to implement automatic charging technology, but it is the only car company to widely adopt it as standard. Ford EV drivers can enable Plug & Charge by diving into the FordPass app settings, and when they do, it will only work with certain charging stations. So comfortable.

Not fast

It’s important to note that Plug & Charge isn’t actually required when switching to NACS — it’s included as an option in the standard, but that doesn’t mean that automakers have to enable it. NACS itself is just a connector — the technology behind it is separate.

Front three-quarter view of the 2023 Kia EV6 GT-Line.
Stephen Edelstein / Digital Trends

“The transition to NACS should have no impact on Plug & Charge adoption,” an Electrify America representative said in an email to Digital Trends. “NACS is just a connector, and the underlying communications are largely unchanged.”

Car companies could actually adopt Plug & Charge on their Combine Charging System (CCS) electric vehicles, but most do not. And, there’s not necessarily any indication that anything will change with the move to NACS.

“Vehicles must be factory manufactured to ISO 15118 to support Plug & Charge,” Electrify America continued. “Many new vehicles on the market have this technology so adoption will continue to increase over time, but currently, many electric vehicles on the road are built without it.”

But there is still hope. Tesla charging stations have long been associated with simple and convenient charging, and non-Tesla cars will soon be able to charge at them en masse. Tesla Superchargers are so based on Plug & Charge that they don’t even have payment terminals built into them. You will set up a payment method in the Tesla app and just use Plug & Charge to charge after that.

White Tesla with Supercharger
Tesla/Tesla

It’s not just automakers that are implementing Plug & Charge — they’re also depending on the charging network. Clearly, Tesla has mastered the technology, but fortunately, several other companies have as well. Electrify America adopted this technology in 2020 (for cars that support it), but technologies like ChargePoint are not yet available.

The downside

Plug & Charge isn’t necessarily the perfect charging standard some people hope for, and rightly so the reason why ChargePoint, for example, has not yet adopted the standard. ChargePoint argues that Plug & Charge unnecessarily introduces intermediaries into the electric vehicle charging payment process, thereby creating unnecessary security risks. Additionally, ChargePoint said that Plug & Charge provides too much power to utilities to charge prices, compared to charger operators, who, for example, might be business owners who want to offer free charging to employees. We reached out to ChargePoint for comment and will update this article when we hear back.

Despite the drawbacks, it’s clear that we need better and more convenient charging solutions for widespread adoption, and there aren’t many alternatives. Charging has the potential to be much more convenient than pumping gas, and this depends entirely on how payments are handled.

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