Opening up Tesla's Supercharger network could help EV users in the US

But the company isn't planning to do it anytime soon.
Ameya Paleja
Tesla plans to open its Supercharger network in the US but partially
Tesla plans to open its Supercharger network in the US but partially

RoschetzkyIstockPhoto/ iStock 

  • There are around 145,000 gas fueling stations in the U.S. and about 140,000 EV chargers, but charging an EV often takes much longer than pumping gas.
  • The need of the hour is Level 3 fast chargers, and Tesla has plans to build more of these.
  • How many Level 3 fast-chargers the company will open up for non-Tesla users could be an important component of the plans to build up the US's charging infrastructure, especially along the nation's highway corridors.

With the federal government in the U.S. keen to push for a switch from fossil-fuel cars to electric ones, the most important question is whether the country has enough charging infrastructure to support a greater number of users actually choosing electric vehicles.

As per recent statistics, there are more than 282 million vehicles registered for personal and commercial use in the U.S. and around 145,000 gas fueling stations in the country for their energy needs. The adoption of EVs is still minuscule in comparison, accounting for just one percent, or three million cars, in the U.S.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimated last November that the number of EV charging stations in the U.S. stood at 53,000. These support around 140,000 chargers that are available for EV users. Since charging an EV can take much longer than filling up the gas tank of a car, the deficit of chargers becomes quite obvious.

Moreover, EV chargers available to the public are usually locked to automotive companies like Tesla that own and operate them or are available through subscriptions from private charging providers. The federal government has ambitious plans to develop a national charging network and increase the total number of chargers to around 500,000.

The plan, with a budget outlay of $7.5 billion, aims to 'electrify' the 75,000 miles of the national highway system in the U.S. and make chargers accessible and convenient for EV users. To accelerate the deployment of this initiative, the U.S. government is allowing existing EV charging providers to enroll their stations into this network, provided they follow a few norms.

However, Tesla, which has built the country's biggest charging network with its Superchargers, could improve the situation for EV drivers more quickly by opening up more of its chargers for use by non-Tesla owners. The company has been under pressure to further open up its charging network to other cars, including outside the U.S. However, up to now, it has thus far refrained from doing so.

With billions on offer and the potential for new competition, Tesla seems to have had a change of heart and has announced plans to partially open up 7,500 fast chargers on its network to other EVs. Last month, released a research study analyzing how Tesla's Supercharger network could help non-Tesla EV drivers and which regions in the U.S. would benefit from this move.

Interesting Engineering spoke to Karl Brauer, Executive Analyst at, to understand what this means for EV users in the U.S.

Opening up Tesla's Supercharger network could help EV users in the US
Karl Brauer, executive analyst at

Interesting Engineering: What are the government incentives that are attracting Tesla to open up its Supercharger network to non-Tesla cars?

Karl Brauer: The federal government is offering $5 billion to states to improve their EV infrastructure through the construction of new EV charging stations. The goal is to create a much larger network of these stations to improve charging access for consumers throughout the country. Another $2.5 billion is available to specifically build EV charging stations in rural or low-income areas to improve EV charging access in areas where it is particularly difficult to locate.

Why is Tesla opening up only a part of its network?

Tesla has cultivated a loyal and enthusiastic customer base by providing not only distinct electric vehicles but by offering its customers their own charging network. If Tesla were to open its entire network to non-Tesla users, it would quickly and substantially compromise Tesla’s customer service and ownership experience.

What does your research show about the advantages of Tesla opening up its network in its entirety?

If Tesla opened its entire network to non-Tesla owners, it would increase Level 3 charging access by approximately 150 percent. It would give non-Tesla drivers 17,000 additional Level 3 chargers to use, over and above the 11,000 Level 3 chargers they currently have access to.

Opening up Tesla's Supercharger network could help EV users in the US
Tesla's Superchargers are spread all across US

What is a good ratio to have when it comes to chargers to cars in a given area?

Level 3 chargers are the most useful to consumers because they can regain most, if not all, of an EV battery’s capacity in less than 30 minutes. There are 11,601 residents per Level 3 charger in the U.S., including the Tesla network. But California only has 4,449 residents per Level 3 chargers, and there still aren’t enough to cover all EV buyers. With the electric vehicle market share predicted to grow from 6 percent to 30-plus percent over the next six years, there should be a Level 3 charger for every 2,000 to 3,000 residents in all regions of the country. 

In charging capacity, what is the difference between having access to a Level 2 or Level 3 charger?

A Level 2 charger can fully charge an electric vehicle battery in 8-10 hours. A Level 3 charger can fully charge an EV in 30-60 minutes and bring battery capacity from 10 percent to 80 percent in as little as 18 minutes, making it much closer to a gasoline vehicle’s refueling experience.

Does Tesla plan to open up its network in a phased manner later on?

Tesla will slowly allow access to some of its EV chargers while monitoring use and the impact on its customers. Over time Tesla will likely increase access to its network, and it will likely build new EV chargers for both its traditional customers and new, non-Tesla drivers.

Opening up Tesla's Supercharger network could help EV users in the US
Apart from Tesla, there are other companies building EV charging infrastructure

What about plans of other EV makers to increase their charger network coverage and make it accessible to others? How long will that take?

Automakers are among the companies that can build EV chargers, along with companies that already build them, including Electrify America, EVgo, and ChargePoint. The government incentives to increase the EV infrastructure will potentially increase the number of companies building EV chargers, but there’s no way to know exactly which companies will build how many chargers over the next 5 to 10 years.

What, in your opinion, is needed to convince Tesla to open up its entire network?

Tesla would need confidence it won’t anger or lose a substantial number of customers before it will open up its entire Supercharger network. There’s every reason to believe Tesla customers would not be happy about this development, which makes it unlikely Tesla will do it.

A more likely scenario is for Tesla to open a small percentage of its existing network while also building new EV chargers for non-Tesla owners. This would allow Tesla to access government incentives without compromising its current customer experience.

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