I charged a Kia at a Tesla Supercharger and saw how Elon Musk can make EV charging suck less for everybody

  • Tesla has started opening up access to its Supercharger network to rival electric cars.

  • I tested out the experience in a Kia Niro EV that Kia lent me.

  • Charging a non-Tesla at a Tesla charging station was notably smooth and convenient.

On paper, electric cars handily beat dirty gas vehicles by being quick, quiet, and eco-friendly. But in practice, simply filling them up with electricity — a key ingredient in driving places — can be a struggle.

Public charging plugs are much rarer than gas pumps, an infrastructure gap that can cause headaches on long trips. The electric-vehicle chargers one does find are frequently glitchy or outright busted, potentially triggering a full-blown migraine.

So it's a big deal that Tesla is opening up thousands of its formerly exclusive Superchargers to drivers of all electric cars. Elon Musk's famously reliable and easy-to-use charging network (the largest plug provider in the US) has shielded Tesla owners from the difficulties of charging in the wild for years.

The plan is to make 3,500 Superchargers available to drivers of Fords, Kias, Toyotas and more by the end of 2024. (That's out of some 18,000 currently installed.)

The front end of a white Kia Niro EV electric SUV with a Tesla charging cord inserted into its charge port.
The Kia Niro EV charges at a Tesla Supercharger in Brewster, NY.Tim Levin/Insider

Tesla has kicked things off by retrofitting 10 stations: two in California and eight in my native New York. Eager to test out the future of EV charging for myself, I got my hands on a Kia Niro EV and set off for Brewster, New York, about an hour and a half away from Manhattan.

The charging process was straightforward and much smoother than the experiences I've had with other charging providers.

First, I downloaded the Tesla iPhone app, which displays nearby charging locations, indicates which ones are open to non-Teslas, and shows how many stalls are available at each station. I created an account, added my billing information, and we were off to the races and within about two minutes.

Screenshots from the Tesla app show the process for charging a non-Tesla vehicle.
Screenshots from the Tesla app show the process for charging a non-Tesla vehicle.Tesla

As it turned out, the toughest part of plugging in was quite literally the act of plugging in. Supercharger stalls were designed with only Teslas in mind, and all Teslas have their charge ports in the same spot — by the rear turn signal on the driver's side.

After several embarrassing parking jobs in full view of some Tesla drivers, I eventually got the Niro EV close enough to the Supercharger to plug in by pulling in at a diagonal. The Kia's charge port is on its nose, while some other EVs have them by the front fender or at the rear left. Some non-Teslas need to take up two parking spots to plug in comfortably, but thankfully I didn't need to.

A close-up shot of a Tesla charging cable inserted into the charge port of a white Kia Niro EV electric SUV.
The Kia Niro EV charges at a Tesla Supercharger in Brewster, NY.Tim Levin/Insider

It was all smooth sailing from there. I selected the appropriate charger in the Tesla app (mine was labeled 1A) and tapped "Unlock Adapter." I grabbed the charging plug from its dock, and it popped out with the appropriate adapter already attached. (Tesla uses a different charging standard than the rest of the industry.) I plugged in and within a few seconds, the Kia started charging.

Screenshots from the Tesla app show the process for charging a non-Tesla vehicle.
Screenshots from the Tesla app show the process for charging a non-Tesla vehicle.Tesla

From beginning to end, the experience contrasted the often frustrating ordeal of using other charging providers. I've encountered broken plugs, worn-out touchscreens, clunky payment systems, and chargers that only started working after multiple attempts. I'll grant that when they function as designed, non-Tesla stations can match the Supercharger experience. On the same trip, I drove to an EVgo charger, downloaded the company's app, added a credit card, and charged without a hitch.

Still, Tesla drivers have it the best. They can simply pull up to a Supercharger and plug in — no app necessary. Since Tesla builds both the cars and the chargers, it can make sure the two communicate seamlessly. Charging other cars at other public chargers can be cumbersome for exactly the opposite reason: EVgo, Electrify America, and others need to accommodate dozens of different vehicles across brands, and they don't always mesh well.

A white Kia Niro EV charges at an EVgo charging station parking lot.
The Kia Niro EV charges at an EVgo charging station.Tim Levin/Insider

Tesla could run into similar snags as it expands service to more brands, Sam Abuelsamid, an auto-industry analyst at Guidehouse Insights, told Insider.

Charging any car that isn't made by Elon Musk right now is an adventure, and you never quite know how it'll play out. Tesla's move to open some Superchargers could improve the refueling experience for all by making what it should be: totally boring and uneventful.

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