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?
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
...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.