Tesla Supercharger Layoffs Throw Industry NACS Shift Into Turmoil

Tesla’s unpredictable boss, Elon Musk, laid off hundreds of employees on the company’s Supercharger EV charging network team. With his trademark grace, employees were notified by a late-night email from Musk.

This comes after Tesla’s charging network standard, the North American Charging System (NACS), has become the de facto charging standard for U.S. EVs for carmakers who were tired of the unreliable existing networks and the cumbersome SAE Combined Charging System (CCS) charge plug.

The news was first reported by TheInformation.com, which said that Musk emailed Tesla’s senior director of the Supercharger group, Rebecca Tinucci, and the head of new products, Daniel Ho, informing them that they would leave the company in the morning. TheInformation also reported that in the email, Musk said that Tesla “will continue to build out some new Supercharger locations, where critical, and finish those currently under construction.”

This seems like a significant curtailment of Tesla’s previously ambitious network growth plans. “What this means for the charging network, NACS, and all the exciting work we were doing across the industry, I don’t yet know,” wrote laid-off employee Will Jameson on Twitter, or X. “What a wild ride it has been.”

The Supercharger network had significant momentum, as carmakers rushed to switch to the Tesla plug design so that their customers could use Tesla’s charging network, which has been significantly more reliable than other public charging networks.

Related:Tesla in Transition Amidst Layoffs, Exec Exits

“To be honest, I have no idea what he’s thinking,” remarked Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for transportation and mobility at Guidehouse Insights. “This seems like exactly the wrong time to make this move as the network is being opened up to other OEMs,” he said.

It isn’t only other carmakers who’ve gotten on board. The SAE has established a new charging standard, J3400, which is based on Tesla’s NACS design. Now those plans are exposed to the hazards of Musk’s whims.

“Ever since Ford announced its deal with Tesla and started the NACS/J3400 ball rolling, I’ve been saying that there was no guarantee that Tesla would be able to maintain its high reliability levels when it had to make sure Superchargers worked with every car,” said Abuelsamid.

“Firing the Supercharger team just as they are starting to get NEVI [National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure law] funding for new stations and other OEMs are waiting to connect seems foolish and short-sighted, but that’s not new for Elon,” he concluded.

A potential silver lining for those carmakers is the availability of the hundreds of freshly laid-off Supercharger employees who know how to build and operate a reliable charging network.

Related:Tesla NACS Charging Gains Support

Additionally, the J3400 charging standard is in place, creating the potential for other carmakers, charging network operators, and EV charger manufacturers to take Tesla’s place in advancing the technology.

“The J3400 standard goes beyond just the NACS connector,” Abuelsamid noted. “It offers a number of other updates such as support for 277V AC charging (a single phase of a 3 phase 480V circuit) which will enable much easier curbside charging from utility poles and lights.”

The superiority of this standard ensures the demise of the old SAE CCS standard, he added. “No one is going back to CCS1. The J3400 connector is easier to use and most of the CPOs [Charge Point Operators] are going to retrofit chargers over the next year or so.”