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Why Tesla is opening its charging network to other EVs

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A Tesla charger.

The White House is providing subsidies to Tesla to charge other makers' vehicles, potentially generating multiple income streams for the carmaker. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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On Wednesday, the White House took additional steps toward making the great American road trip an electric one. President Joe Biden wants 500,000 EV charging stations on U.S. highways by 2030. Currently, his administration estimates, there are 130,000.

One of those steps involves Tesla, which has agreed for the first time to open up 7,500 of its charging stations to non-Tesla electric vehicles by the end of the year. In return, Tesla will be eligible for billions in federal subsidies — and may rake in sizable customer fees.

The great American road trip is already electric for Marc Geller. “I’m in San Francisco,” he said. “So I drove in June to Iowa in my 2013 Tesla.”

Geller is spokesperson for the Electric Vehicle Association — basically an EV enthusiasts’ club, not an industry group. Tesla’s highway charging network is still one of the biggest reasons people buy Teslas, he said.

“The smartest decision they made was to build out their own private network to enable long-distance driving,” Geller said.

It’s not only that Tesla has the largest charging network; its charging network actually works.

“All the other makers have a very unreliable network,” said Seth Weintraub, the publisher of EV news site Electrek

That’s partly because other networks have to accommodate so many different types of EVs. So, why is Tesla doing this? Well, there’s the billions of federal dollars.

But also, “once you have these stations, you’re charging people for every charge,” Weintraub said. “More people coming in, buying your Tesla energy — you’re gonna make a lot more money.”

It’s hard to make money from charging stations right now. Home charging is way cheaper and more convenient. But the future could hold additional revenue streams, like using stations to sell electricity back to the grid.

Plus, road-trippers aren’t the only market for public charging, said Sam Houston at the Union of Concerned Scientists. There are also “drivers for transportation network companies of the likes of Lyft, Uber and even some of the delivery services,” she said.

In fact, Tesla was already contemplating allowing other EVs into its stations before Wednesday’s White House announcement. 

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