Electric-car maker Tesla Motors, and more specifically its CEO Elon Musk, has been dropping hints for a while now that it proposes to open up the specifications of its Supercharger DC fast-charging standard for use by other manufacturers.

An article yesterday in Engadget claimed Tesla was planning to reveal those designs--possibly involving sharing some patents or intellectual property--to create a standard technical specification that other makers of electric cars could adopt.

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Tesla's vigilant communications group immediately shot back some clarifications: While the company will offer to share those specifications, it won't necessarily involve opening up those patents.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

There will be, however, a future announcement about a "patent giveaway" or "patent release"--when Tesla is ready to make it.

Any other maker proposing to share the Supercharger specification, Tesla says, would have to engineer future electric vehicles to accept the very high charging rates of which the Supercharger network is capable.

As Musk noted in response to a reporter's question at the ceremonies marking the first U.K. deliveries of right-hand-drive Model S cars, such makers would "need to be able to accept the power level of the Superchargers, which is currently 135 kilowatts and rising, so any car needs to meet the Supercharger standard."

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Perhaps more challenging, Musk said, those makers would have to "agree with the business model, which is, we don't charge people on a per-charge basis."

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

Instead, other carmakers wishing to use the Supercharger charging standard and the existing network of sites would be required to "contribute to the capital costs proportional to their fleet's usage of the network."

There are now several hundred CHAdeMO sites for DC quick-charging throughout the U.S., many funded by Nissan, whose Leaf is the only high-volume electric car that can use them (the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the upcoming Kia Soul EV are the only other two).

A further new standard known as Combined Charging System, or CCS, has been universally adopted by U.S. and German makers--GM, Ford, BMW, Daimler, and VW Group among them--but there are only perhaps a dozen U.S. sites where CCS charging stations even exist today.

It remains very unclear what entities will push for widespread installation of CCS stations, whereas Tesla with its Superchargers and Nissan as the de facto CHAdeMO champion at least have a compelling interest in expanding charging-station availability.

Tesla owners need not worry immediately that the Tesla-only Supercharger sites will be swamped by drivers of lesser cars; designing a new charging standard into future cars and rolling them out will take a few years, at minimum.

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But now that Tesla has more than 100 Supercharger sites live across the world--the majority today in North America--and apparently plans for several hundred more, the Silicon Valley startup could just end up with the largest and most widespread DC fast-charging network.

Which, just like the idea that users shouldn't pay for fast recharging--ever--must leave the legacy automakers scratching their heads a bit as they struggle to wrap their minds around the differences between electric cars and the old-fashioned kind.


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