With about 17,000 charging connectors, Tesla has the largest and most reliable fast-charge network in the U.S. Ford customers will gain access to roughly 12,000 next year as part of the first such agreement between Tesla and another automaker.
The deal provides Tesla with additional customers and revenue for its coast-to-coast infrastructure of direct-current chargers, which make road trips and long commutes possible. It more than doubles the number of fast-charger plugs available to Ford customers from all charging partners.
"We're all shocked that Ford has announced this," Loren McDonald, CEO of consulting firm EVAdoption, told Automotive News. "But now that Ford has made the decision, it's easier for everyone else. The ice has been broken and now the dominoes can fall."
Automakers joining the Tesla Supercharger network would vastly improve the customer experience. McDonald said there is general frustration among EV buyers with smaller and less reliable networks such as Electrify America and EVgo.
Until recently, Tesla kept its charging network to itself as a feature to sell more cars. This year, it agreed to open some Superchargers to the general public in order to qualify for federal funding to expand its network. But only 3,500 connectors are opening as part of that agreement.
Ford's decision to partner with Tesla is a break from the rest of the industry, which has relied on deals with smaller and less reliable charging networks. Non-Tesla networks have about 11,500 fast-charger plugs combined, according to iSeeCars.
"This news is bigger than Ford and Tesla," Sandy Munro, owner of consulting firm Munro & Associates, said on Twitter. "Today is the end of ICE domination. Congratulations to Tesla and Ford for their bold move."
Industry studies show that EV shoppers remain anxious about public charging while on road trips or when they are unable to charge at home. Tesla's Supercharger network typically ranks significantly higher than Electrify America, EVgo, ChargePoint and other rivals in customer satisfaction.
Ford's decision to cut a deal with Tesla for fast-charge access "is an indictment of the other major charging networks in America," McDonald said. Since most EV makers are likely frustrated with their charging partners, he said, future partnerships with Tesla are likely for at least some of them.
Because Tesla vehicles use a unique charging plug, Ford customers will initially need adapters to charge their vehicles on the Supercharger network. Ford's next generation of EVs, the automaker said, will adopt the Tesla plug in 2025.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Ford CEO Jim Farley discussed the partnership Thursday on Twitter using a conference-call feature called Spaces. Musk bought the social media platform last year.
"It's certainly super exciting to be in partnership with Ford," Musk said during the 28-minute event. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ford as a company and it makes great, great vehicles. This is something I am super happy to support."
Among automaker CEOs, Musk and Farley now appear to have a friendly relationship after sniping at each other on Twitter in recent years. Musk was also friendly with former Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess.
"We don't want the Supercharger network to be like a walled garden," Musk said. "We want it to be something that is supportive of electrification."