Tesla is on the cusp of being stripped of its advantage in the electric vehicle marathon as rivals roll out dozens of electrified vehicles in the coming years. Unlike Tesla, the legacy automakers have deeper war chests and decades more experience with manufacturing and supply chain operations.
The California upstart, however, has a competitive moat: a global network of more than 10,500 high-speed chargers built since 2012. Charging infrastructure is one area Tesla's rivals don't fully know how to navigate.
The rest of the auto industry is steering clear of Tesla's capital- and time-intensive strategy, instead relying on a burgeoning network of chargers installed by government, utilities and private companies. It's an easier route but one that brings greater uncertainty and less control, which isn't ideal when few customers have any experience driving an EV.
"There has been a flurry of OEM announcements regarding accelerating electric vehicle introductions, but most offer little detail on charging and battery manufacturing strategy," Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in a research note. "We see Tesla's rapidly growing infrastructure footprint as a key differentiator."
Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Nissan, General Motors and others are plugging into third-party charging networks, such as EVgo, ChargePoint and Electrify America. In some cases, automakers have made strategic investments in the businesses.
GM pays EVgo to develop an exclusive charger network for its Maven Gig car rentals. Daimler invested about $82 million in ChargePoint as part of a $125 million funding effort by the charging network last year.
"Daimler saw they needed a business model to put EV infrastructure in," ChargePoint Chief Strategy Officer Simon Lonsdale told Automotive News.
Three years ago, Volkswagen and BMW financed a ChargePoint network of 100 public fast chargers along high-traffic corridors in the Northeast and along the West Coast.
"It was to get the message out there that it wasn't just Tesla — you could buy an e-Golf, or you could buy an i3, and also get around," Lonsdale said.
Automakers recognize charging infrastructure helps sell cars, EVgo Vice President Jonathan Levy said.
"Their core competency is making and selling cars," Levy said. "Our core competency is siting and constructing ... and owning and operating the charging stations."