The EU mandated USB-C ports for devices. Electric car chargers should be next

How do I charge thee, let me count the ways.
How do I charge thee, let me count the ways.
Image: Nacho Doce / Reuters
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The EU’s new rule, requiring all consumer electronics to come with USB-C charging ports by 2026, is premised on both sustainability and common sense. Expired charging cords account for thousands of tons of landfill every year, but even when they’re functional, they’re doing the same job in needlessly different ways.

The electric vehicle industry faces a similar problem: the lack of a uniform, industry-wide charging interface, which can trip up the shift from gasoline to electric. The US Department of Transportation is now framing standards to address this problem, as part of its rollout of a nationwide EV charging network.

There are at least five different kinds of EV charging jacks out there, each with a different arrangement of prongs and sockets. The CCS Type 2, seen in the photo above, for instance, has seven primary interface points vs the CCS Type 1’s five; the charging cables of BMW, Ford, GM, and Volkswagen cars have one or the other. The CHAdeMO, originally developed by Japanese companies, has four. The J1772, meanwhile, connects to lower-powered charging points. And unsurprisingly, Tesla does its own thing, its charging interface resembling the face of an earless owl.

EV charging networks need to be like gas stations

These differences make for redundancies and frustrations. In the US, for example, cars with CCS chargers can now use only some of Tesla’s 900-odd supercharger stations; to know which of these have been retrofitted for CCS, drivers have to download an app, search for “non-Tesla” stations, and pay a premium. Other charging stations have to build in both CCS outlets as well as a CHAdeMO one, and Tesla drivers wishing to use these must fit an adapter onto their chargers. Some companies are building exclusivity into their charging systems. Part of Rivian’s Adventure Network of 3,500 fast chargers will, at least initially, only be open to Rivian drivers.

An analogous situation during the early days of the automobile is difficult to imagine: Fords able to fill up only at Standard Oil stations, say, or Studebaker drivers having to take along extra fittings in case they had to stop at a Gulf Oil Company station. With such fractured infrastructure, the car would never have taken off.

The White House recognizes the importance of a widespread charging network, the kind that frees drivers of any concern that they’ll be stranded without power. In February, president Joe Biden announced $5 billion to help build 500,000 charging stations by 2030. If the electric revolution is to get under way, though, it’s also important for the industry to adopt a single charging-point standard—the USB-C of electric cars.