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Automakers Straddle the EV Charging Chasm

Richard Martin — February 10, 2013

Source: Gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.comThe emerging competition between the fast EV charging standard CHAdeMO and the Society of Automotive Engineers’ new “combo charger” technology took another twist last month when Tesla Motors said that the version of its new Model S released in Japan will include an adapter that makes it compatible with the CHAdeMO charging system.  Tesla, which uses its own proprietary “Supercharger” technology for fast direct-current (DC) charging, has also produced an adapter to go with the SAE’s enhanced J1772 specification.  Tesla thus becomes the latest automaker to attempt to straddle the divide between charging protocols in this fast-evolving sector.

The SAE’s new system, officially called the “J1772 SAE Electric Vehicle and Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Conductive Charge Coupler,” augments the original J1772 technology to enable charging with AC Level 1 and 2 charging infrastructure, or with fast DC systems.  Finalized last October, it is expected to become the de facto worldwide standard – except in Japan, where the major Japanese automakers including Nissan, Toyota, and Mitsubishi have all already adopted CHAdeMO, which first became available in 2010.

Tesla’s decision to produce a CHAdeMO-compatible sedan when it already has an in-house fast charging system highlights the period of market confusion and standards competition the plug-in EV industry finds itself in.  “This is exactly not what plug-in vehicles need,” commented Danny King, on Autobloggreen.  The name-calling has already begun: Japanese officials scoff at the SAE spec as “the plug without the cars,” while GM executive Shad Balch effectively called for an embargo of CHAdeMO chargers during a public hearing in California last May.

The major U.S. and German automakers have all lined up behind the combo charger, and new models compatible with the technology are expected later this year.  Given the hype over slower-than-expected sales of EVs, both in the United States and abroad, it’s unfortunate that the industry would allow itself to be sidetracked over what is, at bottom, an argument over the plug.  It will likely take 3 to 5 years for this standards confusion to work itself out.  The only bright side is that motorists, unlike smartphone users, rarely transport their vehicles to other continents.

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