Tesla's 2012 Model S Charging Equipment. Redesign For Redesign's Sake?

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2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

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Last weekend, Tesla released more details about its up-coming 2012 Model S all-electric luxury sedan at an exclusive reservation-holder and media Model S event in Fremont, California

While some of the new information -- like the sub-4.5 second 0-60 time of the new Model S Sport variant -- got us excited, we remain less enthusiastic about Tesla’s new proprietary charging connector, designed by Tesla exclusively for the Model S.

But should Tesla have gone to great lengths to design a new, compact charge port and plug, or should it have chosen to support existing infrastructure? And will the proprietary system cause problems for Tesla in the future? 

Impressively engineered...

The 2012 Tesla Model S Sedan’s charging port and plug doesn’t look like anything you’ll have seen before. Ultra-compact and beautifully engineered, Tesla has put a great deal of thought into the process of plugging the Model S into a charging station. 

Take the charge port door, for example. Carefully hidden behind a rear light, proximity sensors in the car sense the charging cable and automatically hinge the light forward, revealing the charging port behind. 

Smaller than the Level 2 J1772 charging receptacle found on cars like the 2012 Nissan Leaf and 2012 Chevrolet Volt, the Model S charging connector is designed to handle up to 20 kilowatts of level 2 AC and 90 kilowatts of level 3 DC charging through a single plug. 

Even the charge cable and 110V, 220v plug-in portable charging cable control boxes are small. Accented in a variety of colors to suit your Model S, Tesla has managed to turn a simple cable into an aesthetically pleasing designer accessory. 

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

2012 Tesla Model S Charging Connector

Enlarge Photo

...but yet another standard

But while Tesla’s new charging standard is elegant in form and function, not choosing to adopt one of the existing charging station types in existence creates its own problems. 

According to Tesla, the new charging interface it has created was needed, claiming that a lack of single world-wide homogenous charging connector forced it to design its own. 

We’re not so sure that’s the case. 

You see, while it may be true that Europe is still struggling to decide on which of the available standards for electric cars to use, every large U.S. automaker which sells plug-in cars has adopted the J1772 standard for level 2 AC charging. 

And with Chademo rapid charge stations being implemented across the U.S. to rapid charge cars like the 2012 Nissan Leaf and 2012 Mitsubishi i, we think Tesla’s claim that there isn’t an adopted standard is inaccurate at best. 

Adaptors, adaptors, adaptors

What of the many tens of electric car charging stations already installed all around the world? Will Tesla Model S owners be able to make use of them despite having a car with a proprietary plug?  

Again, Tesla’s official answer borders on the arrogant. 

“Very few people will ever charge outside of their homes,” a Tesla engineer told us. “With even the smallest battery pack providing a 160 mile range most owners won’t need to use a public charging station.”

But most isn’t all.

For those who do need to make use of public charging stations, Tesla has said its system is ‘backwards compatible’, using the same communication protocol between car and charging station as both Chademo and J1772 systems. 

Even Tesla Roadster owners who buy a Model S will have to buy an adaptor to use charge their Model S with existing Tesla charging hardware. 

The Apple of the automotive industry

In typical Silicon Vally fashion, Tesla isn’t about to let existing standards get in the way of what it wants to do. 

Just like nearby neighbor Apple computer, both Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk and the team of engineers behind the 2012 Model S are more than happy to redesign the status quo if Tesla deems it a necessary path to better design.

For Apple, the innovative thinking and ground-breaking adoption of standards has helped it stay ahead of the competition -- but we think Tesla’s insistence on being different may not pay off just yet. 


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Comments (14)
  1. We'll wait and see if Tesla is all that arrogant. After all, isn't Tesla now trading higher than the big three in America? GM was arrogant enough to come out with that hybrid Volt that will keep America chained to the gas pump; can't Tesla be arrogant with a plug in that will break the chains at the gas pump?

  2. Though I do agree that the range of the Model S is great enough that you would most likely not need to use public chargers, they should have stayed with the J1772. If you have an emergency while your out and need a charge and you don't have a plug converter, your stuck. I think Tesla is putting too many gadgets on the car that could break and leave you stranded, the pop-out door handles and the pop-out tail light with the new plug type aren't necessary. I can just see walking up to my Model S and the handels refuse to pop up or they've jamed or the tail light won't flip open preventing me from charging.

  3. The claim that seldom will Tesla owners recharge outside the home misses the point - when you travel (and we ALL travel) you will be charging outside the home. However, except at motels stops, who in the world would ever recharge using level 2 while on as trip? That makes zero sense. Public charging will, except for lengthy parking situations, by its very nature require level 3 chargers, not level 2. You can't recharge cars at a rate of hours per charge stations - imagine if gas pumps needed 4 hours to refill your tank. People don't have the time and the economics makes no sense.

  4. Except I would expect (employers that own their own parking) to begin to offer plug-ins also. That is another extended period (~8 hrs) of stationary parked time that it would be useful to charge.

    It will effectively double your commute distance on battery, too.

  5. That's true Mike, I too figure lots of commuters will be commuting over 3oo miles per day. Yes, useful. I won't be one of those, but hey useful, more so for a Leaf, i, Focus e, Volt, Coda or such though. A 3oo mile commute is about 75,ooo miles a year if I approximate about 25o work days. I got the 3oo miles by multiplying 16o by 2 and leaving a small buffer.

  6. Ramon, you have great comments and your conclusions are quite creative. But you seem to have a habit of commenting without actually reading the entire post. Also people on long trips would tend to carry adapters, especially with two trunks and the expected incomes possessed by the owners of cars at this price level.

  7. Nikki, as far as Tesla's arrogance in choosing a proprietary plug, you could say Level 2 J1772 is a standard. And Chademo is a standard to a degree. But it's a little early to call it. A little like having specifications for the apothecary jars druggists used to sell gasoline in; before there were gas stations.

    Imagine the recent announcements of potential battery improvements being phased in over the next six to ten years. And isn't it amazing that we have not heard about huge numbers of RV'ers electrocuted with their primitive NEMA connections.

    Perhaps somewhere over the horizon, RV, marine applications and EV engineers can get together and design something simple, safe and cost effective. Maybe over a coupla beers? It could happen.

  8. Ironically, it was Tesla Motors that pushed for a standard early on, under the direction of then CEO Martin Eberhart. I dont think Tesla is helping advance the mass adoption of EV's by choosing to go with their own proprietary connector.

  9. Yikes, I was just getting enthusiastic about the Tesla S, but I don't think I would consider it without a standard charge port. There really will be generally available J1772 charging stations, and the last thing I would want to do is to support anything that would weaken the promotion of such a standard. I had been very (yes VERY) seriously considering replacing our Leaf with the Tesla S in 2014, but this detail is likely a "deal killer."

  10. I appreciate industrial design as much as anyone but this is ridiculous. Tesla should stick with the industry standards for the charging connectors. If they want to upgrade from that Tesla's should also have the ability to use the Delphi Wireless Charging System. That would be an upgrade worthy of a luxury car!

  11. ANyone who pays 60 grand for a electric sedan won't mind spotting a few bucks for an adapter if they need it.

  12. I can't believe this.
    This would be a HUGE mistake on the part of Tesla, it also goes against previous statements about supporting SAE standards.
    It may be elegant, but that is irrelevant. EV manufacturers around the world must agree on plug-in standards or they will just frustrate the public. Many (probably even most) potential customers will not buy the Model S just for this one reason.

    Why would Tesla cut its own throat?

  13. Hi Nikki, very nice article.

    I was just waiting until someone did this step. My model was apple. All MacBooks have this cool mag-safe connector which is not just beautifull (compared with the standard plugs of laptops) but also very practical.

    If the drivers have always their cable with the car... there should be no problem at all, isn't it?


  14. Let's be honest, Standards are a pipe dream
    (See http://xkcd.com/927/)
    But if Tesla wants to create it's own, by-golly let them! Look at Apple's iPod dock connector... Sure they could have used a more standard mini usb, but they used their own... Now look, you can buy charge cables anywhere and they're including them into speakers, cars, airplane seats, and even wall outlets.

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