Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the Californian automaker would turn its entire patent library open source, making Tesla plans, technology and schematics open to anyone who wanted to use them ‘in good faith’.
Three days later, it appears two of Tesla Motors’ [NASDAQ:TSLA] biggest rivals — Nissan and BMW — are looking to co-operate on charging networks and charging technology.
That’s according to the Financial Times (subscription required), who says that both Nissan and BMW are keen to enter into a joint agreement to build and maintain charging networks that Tesla, BMW, and Nissan owners could use.
As Musk admitted himself last week in a media Q&A session following the announcement that Tesla was turning all of its patents into freely-available information under the open-source model, top BMW executives travelled to Palo Alto the day before Tesla’s monumental announcement to discuss how they could work more closely together. Sharing Tesla’s supercharging technology was most certainly on the agenda.
“We talked about potential ways to collaborate and one of them was on the Supercharging network,” Musk said on Thursday last week. “We’re more than happy for others to use our Supercharger network or to build and install them and then have some sort of cross-use agreement.”
While neither Nissan nor BMW are keen to officially state their intentions, one executive involved in the tri-company discussion said that it made sense for them all to work together. While BMW and Tesla stress their meeting was coincidentally timed with the patent announcement, it does lend credence to the idea that there are moves afoot for the companies to cooperate. Given the fact that automakers often cooperate on other technologies, from engine design to platform sharing, charging technology cooperation is extremely plausible.
“It is obviously clear that everyone would benefit if there was a far more simple way for everyone to charge their cars,” one executive said, declining to be named at the time due to the incomplete nature of the talks.
Currently, while all three electric car companies make use of direct current quick charging to charge their respective electric cars, each company uses a different charging standard.
Nissan and BMW both use 50 kilowatt direct current methods, capable of recharging an average electric car battery pack from empty to 80 per cent full in around 30 minutes. Nissan’s DC quick charge technology uses the CHAdeMO quick charge connector from Japan, while BMW favours the newer, German-derived Combined Quick Charge Standard — known in the industry as CCS. While both protocols charge at the same rate they are physically incompatible with one another due to different connectors.
Tesla, on the other hand, uses its own proprietary DC quick charge standard known as Supercharging. Capable of recharging at up to 135 kilowatts, it can recharge a Tesla Model S 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack from empty to 80 per cent full in 40 minutes. What sets Tesla’s technology aside however is the range added during that time. In the Nissan LEAF and BMW i3, their 30 minutes of rapid charging will add between 60 and 80 miles of range. In Tesla’s case, it will add upwards of 170 miles of range in a similar amount of time.
Historically, Tesla has always been happy for other car companies to adopt the Tesla Supercharging standard — and its unique, compact charge connector — for use in their own vehicles. The only stipulation has been that those using Tesla’s Supercharging standard adhere to Tesla’s philosophy on charging stations: in other words, never charging customers to recharge at the point of use. Instead, Tesla wants other car companies to work in the cost of supporting a charging network into the car sticker price, ensuring customers never pay to refuel again.
In Thursday’s press conference, Musk added another stipulation: high speed capability.
“It has to be able to charge at high speed — at least 135 kilowatt level — so that people have the convenience of high speed charging,” he said. “And then there’s some reasonable cost share proportionate to the respective vehicle fleets.”
Since both BMW and Nissan are rumoured to be discussing future collaboration with Tesla on rapid charging technology, these particular requirements do not seem to be causing any problems. For Nissan, which is rumoured to be developing a longer-range LEAF electric hatchback for release some time in 2016, a switch to Tesla charging technology could help it solve a number of major logistical nightmares.
For a start, Nissan’s current chosen technology for rapid charging — CHAdeMO DC quick charging — is limited by its current design to a little over 60 kilowatts of power. On current generation Nissan LEAFs with just 24 kilowatt-hours of on-board storage that power limitation isn’t a problem.
On a vehicle with a larger battery pack which is double, or even triple that of current generation LEAFs, that results in a quick charging taking more than an hour. Adopting Tesla’s far faster, more powerful charging technology would give Nissan a way to build a longer range 150-200 mile car without sacrificing charging time in the process.
Then there’s practicality. Tesla’s modular Supercharger design and multiple stalls per location means that a Supercharger site can continue to operate — even at reduced capacity or lower power — if there’s a fault. When a CHAdeMO DC quick charger fails, it fails completely — and there tends to be just one unit per location. While there are now hundreds of CHAdeMO quick charge stations around the U.S., the CHAdeMO DC quick charge standard has proven woefully unreliable for Nissan.
When it comes to BMW the case to move toward Supercharger technology is even greater. Unlike Nissan, BMW has no DC quick charging network to speak of in either the U.S. or Europe. Last time we checked, the number of CCS-compatible quick charge stations were negligible compared to DC CHAdeMO and Tesla Supercharger numbers.
“Nissan welcomes any initiative to expand the volumes of electric vehicles,” a Nissan spokesperson told the FT. “Nissan is the market leader in EVs and has worked with other manufacturers to help proliferate the technology.”
At the time of writing, we don’t know for sure what Nissan, BMW and Tesla’s joint plan will involve, but we’re confident that its effects will be as groundbreaking for the automotive industry as the birth of fuel injection. Most importantly, it will change the face of owning an electric car forever.
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