The Lesson of J3400: Move Fast and Fix Things

The standard may have changed everything, just not how you think.

At WCX 2024, a panel called “The Wake of J3400 (NACS), Are Standards Still Needed?” discussed Tesla’s emerging charging standard. From left: James P. Flaharty (Toyota), Rebeca Delgado (Intel Automotive), Andy Jeffers (GM, retired), Sarah Hipel (Joint Office of Energy and Transportation), Christian Thiele (SAE International). (SAE | Sebastian Blanco)

On May 25, 2023, Ford made an announcement that seemed unimaginable. For those in the EV and standards industry, it caught many by surprise. Ford was partnering with Tesla to move away from the CCS (J1772/CCS) standard that's on a majority of electric vehicles and would switch to the Tesla NACS (North American Charging Standard) in the future.

"When the J3400 news broke or the NACS partnerships broke, it kind of went around the regulatory ‘there's no way around that’ and it was just the worst day because I thought we were going to lose, open, collaboratively created standards," Sarah Hipel, standards and reliability program manager for the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation told the audience at SAE's WCX 2024. Hipel was on a panel titled “In The Wake of J3400 (NACS), Are Standards Still Needed?” 

Hipel was joined by Rebeca Delgado, CTO of Intel Automotive, James P. Flaharty from Toyota North America R&D and chair of the motor vehicle council at SAE, and Christian Thiele, director of ground vehicle standards for SAE International. The panel was moderated by retired GM manager Andy Jeffers and the group discussed the importance of standards as a way to set guardrails for development but allowing disruption within the confines of the standard.

"The industry has always benefited from standards," Delgado told the audience. “In the right place, it's [a] very clear [way] to foster innovation, because slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

Yet, J3400 was anything but slow. The news broke in May of 2023 and by December the Technical Information Report (TIR) was published with the potential of the standard being solidified by the end of 2024.

Hipel said that after the news broke, during talks with Tesla it was clear that the company wanted to participate in the standardization of NACS. Others in the industry came on board and NACS moved from a Tesla-controlled interface to one built up and standardized by SAE and its partners both in the public and private sector.

The speed at which J3400 has been adopted is a sign that, when needed, the industry (both private and public) can move quickly to benefit all. "When you come together to create standards and collaborate you really do drive things further, faster, and smoother," Hipel said. “I like that and I think that J3400 is a bit of an example of that.”

What happens next in the industry requires focus, such as Hipel's work with the Charge X Consortium.  The group, comprised of 85 private sector members and three labs, is working to identify and create solutions for issues identified at charging stations. Considering the current fail rates and the move to expand charging infrastructure at an ever-quickening pace, it's vital that these issues are addressed quickly to ensure a smooth EV transition.

Move fast and fix things

For Hipel and the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, that requires focus on the task at hand. "Where those gaps are, we can come to the standards bodies and the private sector and just say, 'we think there's a gap. Do you think there's a gap?' Because at the end of the day, it's private sector-led, government enabled,” she said. "I think that shift, at least within our office, is really powerful in terms of moving quickly to find that next thing to solve, resolve, and then improve as we go. But we have to implement, we can't get stymied. We can't get in the mud on fighting to the death about a form factor or something like that."

The hope is that moving quickly as an industry signals a cultural shift -- a moment in time when the industry is interested in collaborating to solve big problems quickly.

J3400 is no longer in the hands of Tesla. The company recognized the value of handing it over to the industry to be standardized. What happened next was a collaboration that helped push the rest of the automotive world to support the interface. Now every major automaker plans to use NACS in future EVs.

Facebook had a motto "move fast and break things." In hindsight, it was a terrible way to roll out technology. The broken "things" snowballed into huge issues. The automotive industry looks to be doing things a bit differently by moving quickly and fixing things and those that join in are reaping the benefits.