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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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What Tesla’s Charging U-Turn Means for U.S. EV Adoption

  • Tesla's reversal on EV charging expansion in the US, coupled with layoffs in the charging infrastructure team, has raised questions about the pace of EV uptake and charging infrastructure development.
  • Despite Tesla's setback, other automakers and private investors are expected to step in to fill the gap, spurred on by President Biden's pro-renewable energy policies and growing interest in the EV sector.
  • The shift in plans by Tesla may lead to greater competition in the charging space, with companies like EVgo eyeing opportunities to expand their charging infrastructure and expertise.
EV Charging

After high expectations for U.S. electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, following big promises from market leader Tesla, plans have come crashing down as Musk scraps the company’s expansion scheme. Tesla announced this month that it would not be going ahead with plans for a major EV charging expansion programme. This followed hundreds of layoffs in April, which led many to question Tesla’s plans for sustained growth in the U.S. and global markets. The question now is whether other automakers will step in to roll out their own charging infrastructure across the country and whether this will lead the EV expansion to be severely delayed. 

This month, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk reversed the company’s plans to massively expand EV charging infrastructure in the U.S. This followed the lay-off of 500 employees in a team that was developing plans for U.S. charging infrastructure. The announcement has thrown the EV industry into turmoil and automakers question whether the U.S. charging infrastructure will expand at the pace needed to match rising EV uptake. It is uncertain whether other companies can step in to develop the charging capacity needed to ensure EV uptake continues to increase in the U.S. market. 

Tesla continues to own the biggest charging network in the country, with 25,500 out of 42,000 fast chargers in the U.S. The company began developing its Supercharger stations as early as 2012, providing Model S owners with a place to charge their vehicles on the road. This has made the company experts in developing charging stations, which encouraged many investors to fund Tesla-led infrastructure projects across the U.S. The shift in direction has shocked many in the industry, particularly potential investors in the company’s EV charging scheme. 

Despite fears of what this could mean for U.S. charging infrastructure, some experts believe that Tesla will not be missed. President Biden’s pro-renewable energy policies, such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), have fuelled interest in the EV sector and encouraged private investors to fund the development of EV charging stations. The number of public fast chargers across the country has risen by almost 11,000, around 36 percent, from April 2023 to April 2024. Peter Slowik, an auto expert at the International Council on Clean Transportation, explained, “The public charging experience is going to get easier… I don’t think the charging market and the electric vehicle market is slowing down because of Tesla.”

The rapid development of a fast-charging network in the U.S. is seen as key to encouraging drivers to shift away from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric battery alternatives, supporting the national green transition. At the beginning of 2024, Biden announced the ambitious goal of installing half a million EV charging stations across the country by 2030, investing $623 million in the sector. Tesla was once the market leader for fast chargers in the U.S., but in recent years fast charging equipment has become more standardised. Most automakers in North America recently agreed to use the charging plug developed by Tesla commencing in 2025 to make charging more straightforward for EV owners. 

The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Programme said 10 states have chosen Tesla as the charging station developer, and it is now uncertain whether the company will fulfil its contracts with these states. However, a spokesperson for the NEVI stated, “Because NEVI provides grants to states, which run competitive procurements to select vendors, we don’t expect individual business decisions to impact EV charging projects funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law… We are focused on delivering a positive charging experience for every driver and an even playing field for American companies.”

The shift in plans by Tesla has led many in the industry to believe that it could spur greater competition in the U.S. Badar Khan, the CEO of EVgo – an EV charging network developer, said that Tesla’s shift in plan is “a very significant change in competitive dynamics in the charging space.” Khan said that EVgo is in discussions with Tesla’s EV charging site hosts and may also be open to hiring ex-employees from the Tesla Supercharger team. This could provide EVgo with the potential to develop charging infrastructure on sites that have already acquired permits, as well as to expand its knowledge and expertise in fast EV-charging technology. 

Tesla’s change of plan is expected to slow down the development of the U.S. EV charging network in the short term, as other companies compete to fill the gap. This could have a knock-on effect on EV adoption over the next few years. However, it could also leave room for more market competition, knocking Tesla off the top spot. Further, greater standardisation over the last few years will reduce potential complications around different, competing charging infrastructure, assuring consumers that they will be able to charge their EVs countrywide. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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