Hyundai Just Handed Tesla The Win In The Charging Wars
When Ford shocked the world (pun very much intended) by announcing its future electric vehicles would use Tesla’s once-proprietary plug standard, the move received considerable praise—but also a lot of questions.
What other automakers would join Ford in switching to Tesla’s North American Charging Standard (NACS) plug? What did this mean for the current Combined Charging System (CCS) plug, and the countless existing public charging networks that use them? And would this mean an almost Xbox vs. PlayStation format war, except for charging?
Maybe the last thing would’ve been the case under some circumstances. But I think that after Thursday’s announcement from Hyundai, this matter is settled. Stick a fork in the CCS plug. It’s done.
This will not happen overnight, mind you. CCS plugs will still be with us for a very long time, just as CHAdeMO chargers are now as well. But the future of charging—in North America anyway—just got decided in favor of Tesla’s plug. And it was Hyundai that issued the ruling, especially a few hours later when corporate cousin Kia and luxury division Genesis made the same announcement.
Don’t get me wrong: General Motors, Rivian, Volvo, Polestar, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Infiniti, Jaguar, Honda, Acura and Fisker moved the needle pretty firmly in the NACS direction too. But I’ve been waiting for one other major player in the EV space to make this move, and the Hyundai Motor Group turned out to be it. (The other was the Volkswagen Group, if you’re curious.)
This is a very serious decision from a company that’s very serious about its EVs; you could argue that of all the major “legacy” automakers, Hyundai’s got the strongest overall electric game right now. When you look at the power players in the global EV space, as far as I’m concerned, the top ones are Tesla, BYD in China, and the Hyundai Motor Group.
Back when the rest of the industry was dithering about whether to go electric and how much, Hyundai (along with its Genesis luxury division and corporate cousin Kia) was building battery plants, making ground-up EV platforms, investing heavily into software, over-the-air updates and new tech, and making some of the boldest styling choices the auto industry has seen since Giugiaro was punching the clock every morning. In terms of specs, range, tech experience and performance, Hyundai is awfully close to Tesla these days. In some areas, its cars actually beat what Teslas can do, which is still no small feat. Plus, Hyundai is launching 11 new EVs by 2030, and Kia will have 14 on the market by 2027.
In short, Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung didn’t come to play. He’s dead-set on making the company a dominant force in the EV sector—and trying to secure its long-term future with bets on crazier things too, like robots and air taxis.
Of course, those ambitions haven’t been reflected in U.S. market share. When the Biden Administration hit reset on the EV tax credits, Hyundai got kind of burned—left out of the scheme because those cars aren’t made in North America. But that’s going to change quickly. It’s been building up its Georgia “Metaplant” for batteries and EVs at a breakneck pace, and already making some Genesis EVs in Alabama. If history teaches us anything, the still-somewhat pricey Ioniq cars will get cheaper when they’re built locally and at scale, and what’s more, they will finally qualify for the EV tax credits.
Now, all of those electric Hyundais due out in the coming years will have access to Tesla’s charging standard—making them not easier and more convenient to own and live with daily. A Hyundai Ioniq 5 or Kia EV6 that can charge like a Tesla is ane of the more appealing EV options I can personally think of.
What’s more, it casts the deciding vote for Tesla’s NACS standard. With an EV juggernaut like Hyundai behind NACS, what chance does CCS have? As I mentioned earlier, that plug format will hardly disappear overnight. CCS ports are mandatory at any charging stations built with some of the $7.5 billion in federal grants doled out under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. And millions of EVs on the road right now will need CCS chargers for years, even decades, to come. Charging companies have every reason to keep building CCS ports, even as they look into including NACS as well.
But as before, questions remain. Hyundai and Kia’s EVs pack an 800-volt battery architecture, and Tesla’s Superchargers are only equipped to push 400 volts. What this means is that the Superchargers will, in theory, charge those Hyundais and Kias slower than other options unless they make major upgrades or the automakers include some upgrades to the cars to make that happen. I reached out to Hyundai to ask about this and will update when I hear back.
Granted, Tesla’s handing the NACS format over to SAE International will make it a true standard, with the IP behind it controlled by a neutral third-party consortium. Experts have told me that Musk’s usual level of meddling won’t apply there. But adding Hyundai EVs to the Supercharger party means a ton of extra charging revenue for Tesla. Luckily for drivers, Tesla is building those stations out at a record pace as well. Could Hyundai EVs become the top customers there besides the Teslas themselves? I could see it.
Hyundai’s got very big electric plans for America; arguably, some of the biggest. And those plans now include Tesla’s plugs. It doesn’t matter how many more automakers sign onto NACS now, because the matter is pretty much settled.
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