The Pros and Cons of a Proprietary Apple Car Charger

| Editorial

I've been mulling car chargers, sparked in part by a Reuters report that Apple has been chatting up car charging companies. There are any number of reasons Apple could be talking to them: anything from wanting to pump them for information to partnering to even becoming suppliers for Apple.

That topic has been well-discussed, but it got me wondering if there should be a standard for car chargers, either voluntary or mandated. This is pertinent because Apple has a penchant for developing proprietary technologies—think Lightning or the 30-Pin Dock—but I have mixed feelings about Apple taking that approach for car charging.

Apple Car

If you listened to Friday's episode of TMO's Daily Observations that may surprise you. I spent much of the episode arguing with my colleague John Martellaro about exactly this topic. He argued that Apple would adopt an industry standard and I was practically apoplectic, but that was because while Apple (perhaps) should adopt a standard, I don't think the company will.

Instead, I expect Apple to do something similar to what Tesla has done, and that's use a proprietary charging technology that is superior to what the rest of the industry is doing. At best, I expect Apple to also follow Tesla's model and develop an adapter that would allow Apple Car owners to use the slower-charging infrastructure the rest of the electric-vehicle uses when forced to do so.

To be fair, Tesla is a great example of why adopting a standard technology has drawbacks, and mandating a standard through legislation has even more. Tesla cars can charge much more quickly on Tesla-owned car charging stations than competing cars. If the industry adopted a standard, or was mandated to do so, it would hobble innovation—like that developed by Tesla—and keep us mired in a lowest-common-demoninator world where technology stands still for the sake of interoperability.

This is precisely why I think efforts by the European Union to force mobile phone makers to all use the same connector are nonsense. The standard the EU settled on is microUSB, which sucks compared to Lightning, and will suck even worse in comparison to whatever Apple develops to replace Lightning while the rest of the mobile device market is still wallowing about with microUSB.

But there's a big difference between electric cars and smartphones. For one thing, even when using microUSB or Lightning, one is still plugging into a USB port. That puts a standard into the mix that makes it trivial to charge up your device.

Cars, on the other hand, need infrastructure many orders of magnitude more complex and expensive. I fear that the last thing we need is to have three or more competing charging stations set up hither and yon. Doing so is inefficient and will slow adoption of electric vehicles. It will also make it more difficult for governments (local, regional, and federal) to ease that adoption by providing public facilities for charging.

It's a tricky issue for a company like Apple to tackle, and it's one with no one single answer. Apple could partner with Tesla to use that company's technology and charging stations, or Apple could work with Tesla and the rest of the industry to open source any advancements they develop so that the whole industry (and the public) could benefit. Apple could also adopt the lowest-common-demoninator the rest of the industry uses.

Lastly, Apple could go its own way—like Tesla—and deploy its own network of Apple-owned charging stations, while providing adapters that allow users to slum it with the unwashed masses and their standard-based stations. Apple has the money to do so, and it would be utterly in keeping with Apple's track record of using such advantages to compete on experience.

I'm not sure that would be the best thing for the world at large, but it's probably what Apple will do.

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I’ve seen electric car chargers in parking lots and garages. Usually just one, and frequently an ICE (non-electric) car is parked in that space—which is usually closer /more desirable. IMO, we’re going to need a heck of a lot more chargers when e-cars finally become widespread. And I think we must re-envsion charging scenarios. First, why not charge also while underway–perhaps with an overhead arm like electric buses do? The arm could retract into the car’s roof, like a convertible top. And the overhead arm could be used while parked in a garage in a similar manner. And probably require something like Apple Pay for the money exchange. Until something like that happens, the few charging stations available should be set up to allow different connectors and charging speeds. And be able to “refuel” a lot more than one vehicle at a time—like gas stations do.


Unless the charging times come down significantly, we’ll eventually have to move towards getting an instant recharge by visiting a station to exchange the battery pack for a freshly charged one. That leads to the need for standardized battery packs rather than standardized battery chargers.

Lee Dronick

z9jeff I was thinking the same thing about swapping out batteries. This would be real handy outside of the urban areas when people are on road trips. This could help getting the oil industry on board, they have a system of filling stations.

As to proprietary charging. Could there be both standard and proprietary ports, 110 or 220 volts is coming off of the grid.


@z9jeff: Tesla recently shut down their batter exchange station in California where Tesla drivers would stop, exchange their battery for a fully charged one, and then continue on their drive. The reason Tesla claimed for shutting it down was due to lack of use of the service.

I imagine it might have to do with the fact that people affluent enough to own a Tesla are more likely to fly the shuttle between LAX and SFO than they are to drive their Tesla from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back again. I’d also imagine that being charged the cost of battery if you didn’t return it along with shipping charges to have your battery shipped to you and ship the replacement battery to Tesla had some people not eager to participate. And then there was the rapid charging stations across the road from the battery exchange depot….


The 30-pin and Lightning connectors were needed only because micro-USB was not capable enough for what Apple wanted to do.

I expect Apple to provide a proprietary charging connector ONLY if the come up with a way to charge their cars much faster than Tesla does. If they do that, I’m sure they will also provide adapters to allow the use of Tesla and North American standard charging interfaces, if only to allow people to use as many options as possible. It’s all about customer satisfaction.

Otherwise I expect then to do like Tesla and use Tesla’s connector (to allow use of the Tesla Supercharger network - Tesla’s specifications are Public Domain) and an adapter to use standard power interfaces, to allow them to charge anywhere else as well


The standard connector is SAE J1772.  The use of a proprietary connector is not really the issue. It’s all about electrical infrastructure and having enough current at the correct voltage to charge a battery fast enough in the desired time.

For domestic infrastructure most people are lucky to have garages that are wired to supply 120V AC at 15A of current. A lot of garages have electrical systems that are in such bad shape that running the lights and an electric lawnmower may even be a stretch.

The Chevy Volt model is home charging (3.6 kW) at either L1 120V AC 8A @ 19 Hrs, L1 120V AC 12A @ 12 Hrs or L2 240V AC 16A @ 4.5 Hrs. For the standard garage 14 AWG wiring with a 15A breaker the 120V, 8A @ 19 Hrs is doable. The garage wiring needs to be upgraded with a dedicated circuit having 12 AWG wire with a 15A breaker to support 120V AC 12A @ 12 Hrs. For the faster 4.5 Hrs charging, a dedicated 240VAC circuit with 10 AWG wire, 20 or 30 A breaker (depending on the charging station) is required. If one has an older house with 60A service, its probably time to have the service upgraded to 200A to support the charging of the car and all other modern electrical appliances that can be used in the house.

The Tesla model is fast charging vs, slower GM Chevy Volt charging. Home charging is more problematic as one needs to upgrade their electrical service to support fast charging for the car. Probably talking 4 AWG cable for the fast L2 240V AC (11.5 kW)  charger with a 60A breaker. Depending on the model Tesla charging time will be between 6.5 and 9.5 Hrs with the L2 240V AC 11.5 kW charger. Will need to verify standard 200A house service to support charging of the car. If you have 2 cars may need to upgrade to 0 AWG wire to support 2 60A circuits to charge 2 cars at same time. Will standard 200A home electrical service be enough for charging 2 cars? May need to future proof and upgrade to 300A service. Having said all this, the Tesla should be able to slow charge as well with a L2 240V AC 3.6 kW charger but charge times are anywhere between 16 and 23.5 Hrs depending upon the model Tesla being charged.

The point here is that fast home charging can take a lot of money to upgrade the electrical system of your house to support quick charging of the car. Thus the Tesla model of having a commercial charging station infrastructure in order to fast charge vs. home charging. The fast charging also addresses the range anxiety issue. The Chevy Volt addresses range anxiety using a gas engine as a generator to charge the car battery to run the EV motors once the usable EV range of the battery is depleted. Thus there is zero need for fast charging at a commercial fast charging station. The gas generator mpg is around 43 mpg.

The shape and size of the charging connector is mute if you don’t have the correct voltage and current with proper electrical wiring / breakers available to charge the car. If everyone is worried about proprietary connecters, inductive charging is probably the way to go with the car having to be driven over the charger. No need to worry about he connector standard with inductive charging. Still need the proper Electrical voltage and current to charge the car. No getting around that.

Lee Dronick

Joe, thanks for that information, it helps put a good perspective on the charging situatin.


Nice summary of the electrical requirements Joe. Another related point: most single-family homes built in the last 25 years or so have 200 amp ( or higher depending on size of home - 300 and 400 amp service is standard in larger ( say 4,000 s.f. + )  homes ) service standard. The Volts and Leafs will charge easily on a 240v 30/40 amp dedicated circuit and this is typically not an issue for standard 200 amp service unless the panel has no more room on the bus for the new breaker. Fast charging a ( single )Tesla is another story due to the higher amperage requirements; it most likely requires a service upgrade.


What Apple car?? So amusing this talk based on vapor.  Apple tends to not adapt standards - and then abandon whatever standards and connectors at a drop of a hat. Nothing suggests Apple would know how to adopt a child let alone a charging standard. There are SO many things that will change by the time Apple decides to make a “car” or whatever,  such as capacitors to re-fill batteries on the go and new electrode materials besides Lithium and so forth. Wireless charging will be common as well. Apple is obviously consulting so they can “innovate” wireless charging in their iToys. It’s been a few years since Samsung and others have had it….  Meanwhile, keep talking about cars - you so funny.

Lee Dronick

You are going to be eating a lot of crow when the Apple Car by comparison makes the Tesla seem like a Yugo.


Ha ha.  I give it about another year before you officially hear that Apple will not be building a car “anytime soon”.


The Tesla battery swap didn’t work out because basically it wasn’t needed. It was supposed to quell “range anxiety” but as people found out - there really isn’t any need for anxiety with 300 mile range and 30 minute top ups. And then there is the thing where most people don’t know how to treat a Li-Io battery pack - i.e. you’re never supposed to fully charge it or fully discharge it or you just waste it’s potential for max cycles. Also, why do i want to swap out my fresh cycle loaded depleted battery for what may be an older cycled-to-death battery?? That’s why Elon rules; he will pivot on a dime.


Article today on chance that Apple is looking into charging stations rather than cars. Maybe a way to sneak into the future - as I said a car would be dumb for Apple -  but a “system” as I predicted or in this case a better DC network of charging stations might be in their wheelhouse. I say DC because the slow Level 1 and 2 just isn’t the future for away-from-home charging.

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