For months, a battle over EV charging has taken place across the auto industry, playing out in headline after headline and pitting one type of connector against another to gain dominance and win consolidation into a single standard.
But set aside electric vehicles for a moment: There's another charging connector transition underway that affects far more vehicles and exponentially more consumers. And it's coming to an instrument panel and rear seat near you — if it hasn't already arrived.
The Universal Serial Bus-A connector — the thin, rectangular hole with the plastic tongue that's been a part of automotive equipment since 2006 — is being replaced by the smaller, more efficient USB-C. The USB upgrade has been ongoing in the larger world since 2014, with computer, cellphone and electronics manufacturers migrating steadily to the new standard.
In the auto industry, the transition remains a work in progress.
Just how widespread is the switch to USB-C in the tech world? Even traditional electronics hardware holdout Apple is transitioning to the USB-C standard, in part to comply with European law. But the underlying advantages are simple: The USB-C is smaller, reversible and able to deliver much more power and data.
"Today, you can get 240 watts of power over [USB-C], and you can now get up to 80 gigabit-per-second data rates, which is huge," said Jeff Ravencraft, COO of the USB Implementers Forum, the nonprofit established in 1995 to promote and maintain USB technology. By comparison, those first USB-A connectors from 1995 could carry 7.5 watts of power, or 1.5 megabits of data per second, Ravencraft said.
"We say it all the time: This train has left the station. It left a long time ago," Ravencraft said of USB-A, noting the robustness of the USB-C connector and its growing ubiquity across technologies. Electronics manufacturers and the USB Implementers Forum stopped developing the USB-A around 2010.