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My wife and I are curious about electric vehicles and are trying to learn more about them to see if one will work for our family. We looked at a charger near us and were confused by the two kinds of plugs. We Googled it and saw that different manufacturers use different plug shapes. What’s the difference? Is one better than the other? I’ve also read that Tesla’s could take over. – Jan, Halifax

Right now, there are three types of plugs at public DC fast chargers in North America, but Tesla’s plug might eventually lead the charge, an electric vehicle expert said.

Until Tesla opened up its Supercharger network to other car manufacturers this year, the charging world was split between Tesla’s Superchargers, which could only be used by Teslas, and public fast chargers, which could be used by every other EV – and by Teslas with a special adapter.

While public fast chargers typically offer two kinds of plugs, CCS (Combined Charging System) and CHAdeMO (short for charge de move), Tesla uses its own plug that it calls NACS (Tesla North American Charging Standard).

But since May, four car companies – Ford, General Motors, Rivian and Volvo – have announced that their EVs will be able to use Tesla’s Superchargers with an adapter. They will be changing the connectors on their vehicles from CCS to NACS by 2025.

ChargePoint, a charging network, announced last month that it would be offering Tesla connectors at its chargers.

This all could mean that, in a few years, non-Tesla public chargers will offer Tesla plugs alongside CCS, said Daniel Breton, chief executive officer of Electric Mobility Canada, a Montreal-based national non-profit that promotes EV ownership.

But could Tesla’s plug take over entirely and replace the other two? Breton thinks Tesla could replace CHAdeMO, a Japanese standard only available in North America now on the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). But, he said it’s too early to tell if it will eventually replace CCS at chargers in North America.

“We went from having two standards, CHAdeMO and CCS, and now CHAdeMO is on its way out and it’s going to be CCS and NACS,” Breton said. “That doesn’t mean that all chargers will have two ports. One station may have three chargers with CCS and three with NACS.”

But if charging stations stop offering CHAdeMO, Breton thinks owners of older EVs with CHAdeMO should be able to use adapters.

Three types of fast-charging plugs

The three plug types we’ve been talking about all work for Level 3 charging, which is also known as DC fast charging.

There are three levels of charging, but all public chargers are either Level 2 or Level 3.

For Level 1 and 2 chargers, which can take days or hours to charge a vehicle, all non-Teslas use the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) J1772 EV plug – also known as the J-Plug.

In Canada and the United States, all cars accept the J-plug – except for Teslas, which use their NACS plug but can use the J-Plug with an adapter.

CHAdeMO and CCS are for fast charging non-Tesla EVs. CHAdeMO was proposed as the industry standard in 2010 by five major Japanese automakers. In Canada, it was used by Nissan, Mitsubishi and Kia – but Nissan and Kia switched to CCS in newer models.

On cars using CHAdeMO, there are two ports side-by-side: a J-plug for Level 1 and 2 charging and a CHAdeMO port for fast charging.

CCS is now on every EV sold in North America except the Leaf and Outlander PHEV. CCS uses the J-plug port and adds two more pins underneath for DC charging.

Tesla uses the same plug for all three levels of charging.

Is one better than others?

The main reason four carmakers are switching to Tesla’s NACS is because Tesla’s chargers are more reliable than other charging networks and tend to be in convenient locations, Breton said.

Breton, who drives a Tesla and regularly tests other EVs said he’s never been unable to charge at a Tesla station – but said he has had problems charging at non-Tesla stations “many, many times.”

“[With Tesla] it’s happened to me three or four times that [an individual] Supercharger wouldn’t work, but then I would move the car 10 feet to the next Supercharger and it would work,” he said.

So what’s keeping other automakers from using Tesla’s plug?

Hyundai, which is considering adopting Tesla’s charging standard, has said that Tesla’s Superchargers don’t currently offer higher charging rates that are supported by Hyundai’s EV platform – 800 volts and charging at speeds up to 350 kilowatts. Tesla’s Superchargers run at up to 400 volts with charging speeds up to 250 kilowatts.

But Breton said no chargers of any type charge that fast yet. “The truth of the matter is that, in principle, even though [some Hyundais and Kias] can charge at 800 volts, there are no fast chargers in North America with 800 volts.”

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