By on May 4, 2010

Did you ever arrive in a foreign country, and the plug of your battery-depleted cell phone did not fit? Or worse, it did fit, and the charger went up in smoke? That’s nothing compared to the impending EV disaster. Buy an EV, and you will find yourself between the battle lines of plugs, voltages, and technologies. Imagine the horror: Guided by your GPS, you limp into a charging station on the last watts in your battery, and their round plug doesn’t fit your square socket.

The Japanese government has set a goal of 5,000 high-speed charging stations in place nationwide by 2020, writes The Nikkei [sub]. Some say that this is a mere shadow of the approximately 50,000 gas station in Japan that serve cars with a much bigger range. Other say that this is Japan’s move to establish a fait accompli in the worldwide race to establish a global standard for charging technology.

In Japan alone, all kinds of companies are entering the charging business. They range from established charger manufacturers such as Takaoka Electric and Hasetec  to Nissan which wants to install proprietary charging equipment at 200 group dealerships (nice traffic generator…) Even trading houses like Marubeni want in on the game.

Toyota, Nissan, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and 155 other companies and associations formed a consortium in March to promote the Japanese standard, dubbed CHAdeMO. Earlier in the year, Japan has been making moves to set ECE standards for electric vehicles.

The U.S. and European countries have their own ideas and their own technologies. Setting the standard “would give their automakers an advantage in the market for electric vehicles,” says the Nikkei. Ain’t that the truth.

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26 Comments on “And Now, The Charger Wars...”


  • avatar
    eggsalad

    VHS vs. BetaMax
    HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray
    Cassette vs. 8-track
    GSM vs. CDMA

    Eventually, this will all settle out. Non story.

    • 0 avatar
      john.fritz

      This is different, though. Government was not involved in any of the examples you mention. Not so one this one.

      Debacle will ensue.

    • 0 avatar
      xyzzy

      Governments all over the world were definitely involved in GSM vs CDMA.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Yeah! When the US government imposed standards on household outlet form factor and safety issues, things sure did go to hell!

      Wait, what? No? Hmm… paradigm… in danger… of collapse… must find counterexample of government incompetence!…. free… maa-aarket…. soll-lllves… aalll…. *bewwwwwww*

      Seriously? The obvious solution is to do what the cell phone makers did: Mini-USB to the rescue!

    • 0 avatar
      ttacfan

      @PeriSoft:

      And as soon as most cell phone manufacturers standardized on mini-USB, EU mandated micro-USB standard for chargers.

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      To PeriSoft,
      The only paradigm in danger here is the straw man you made up that says free-marketers are always against government input.

      Many govt standards were set with heavy input, often written verbatim, from corporate experts since they have much more knowledge than the govt workers with little experience in that field. That’s got to sting a little, huh?

      Where your world view fails is because if industrial planning worked, the command economies in Europe and the former Eastern bloc would have come out with most of the patents and innovations instead of the messily competitive US.

      You would have liked the US govt to designate one PC operating system in the 1990′s to ‘simplify’ things for ‘uniformity’ and such.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      @ttacfan:

      Gee that’s a pain. Too bad nobody makes an adapter…

      http://www.amazon.com/Micro-USB-Mini-Converter-Adapter/dp/B002O1S8IE

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      @FleetofWheel

      Whoa, there! Down, boy! I’m not advocating anything, just calling out the implied ‘government involvement equals disaster’ statement put forward by Mr. Fritz. My belief that his claim is false doesn’t mean I favor a command economy which regulates the software I run on my computer.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Al the more reason to lease these early electric cars.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    All the more reason to let the free market sort out this EV issue.

    Don’t hold your breath on that one, though.

    • 0 avatar
      xyzzy

      No, this kind of standards setting is exactly where the government should step in.

      In a post above, GSM vs CDMA was mentioned, which is an instructive example. All over the world governments mandated GSM, but the US said let the market decide. As a result for years we were a wireless backwater while the rest of the world surpassed us in coverage, cost and flexibility. For years we were (and still pretty much still are) the only country where when you buy a phone, it’s tied to a carrier, and I don’t just mean by a contract but also technically incompatible with competing carriers, which has been very harmful to consumers (see the iPhone AT&T monopoly for a more recent example).

      Also (bringing this back to cars) because of our incompatible standards until Bluetooth came along no car company could offer built in wireless calling because they have no way of knowing which of three competing technologies a buyer will need and buyers change technologies when they change carriers.

      Like cellular wireless air interfaces, electric car charging is an infrastructure standard and is exactly the kind of thing that needs to be uniform, and if the OEMs can’t agree on a standard soon the government should step in.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @xyzzy:

      While I’m no fan of ‘big government’, I agree with you. Left to their own devices, corporations will duke this out for years. The government (at least within each country) needs to create standards for this issue.

      As an engineer, one of the features I’m interested in is connection durability. Making a high-current connection last thousands of cycles under consumer conditions (not all clean ones, either) is a daunting task. It’s different from just pouring gas down a pipe. Next thing you know, we’ll have recalls due to fire risk from worn plugs and receptacles in EVs.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    This is an area where the government should absolutely step in. The government has never been shy about imposing safety standards on vehicles, and being able to recharge your electric car (so as not to be stranded in the middle of nowhere) is a safety issue.

    The difference between this and Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD is that worst case scenario in the HD media wars, somebody wasted a few hundred bucks on a now worthless HD-DVD player, and maybe some discs to go with it, in the case of an electric car we are talking about a $30,000 investment.

    Also, if you’ll recall, the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD wars have severely slowed the public’s uptake on those formats. I’d guess that at least 50% (if not more) American homes have a HDTV, but only a small percentage of those have Blu-Ray players. A lot of people just stepped back to wait to see who won the format war, and in waiting, a lot of the hype wore out. If Electric cars are going to be the next big thing, they need to get this settled before the hype goes away.

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      If a product line fails because the ‘hype’ wore off, that tells me that product did not have deep utility for the consumer.

      A good product that is really needed or desired will sell without hype.

      Canned vegetables seem to being doing fine for a long time.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I could see govts mandating a minimum level of interoperability between charging systems, with individual mfrs adding additional levels of functionality via communication between the car and charger for improved charging.

  • avatar
    Cheevie

    I see charging stations with credit card swipers at every walmart.

    Has anyone considered the liability of high-current self-serve charging stations? Think of the doofus on his cell phone, standing in a puddle, plugging in a 440 volt 200 amp plug. Think bug zapper.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    I don’t want to be negitive, but there just won’t be enough demand for charging stations. Electric cars will not sell in big enough numbers. The few that are sold will be used for short trips, and recharge at home. It isn’t like buying gas, in and out in three minutes, more like six to twelve hours. Anyone reading this going to buy an electric car?

    • 0 avatar

      Sure. For the usual suburban child-chasing, shopping, and short tripping, an eV would do well. Since most folks buy a car with the two day’s drive “trip to grandma’s” idea with the whole family plus luggage, we all end up with a seven passenger SUV driven five miles to buy a quart of milk. If you can have two cars, the second could easily be an EV for most folks.

      The issue becomes my 40 mile EV and my 25 mile commute to work each way. I’d have to have a charger to make this happen at the workplace. I fight traffic tickets for a living (yes I love my work :) and some days it’s a Court four miles off, and other days, a total of 300 miles. I’d select appropriately.

      I don’t want a Hybrid…but I’d buy an EV to go with my normal gas car. It’s totally NOT there, though, as an only car….yet

  • avatar
    Juniper

    I think SAE intl. is already working on this.
    It’s what they do.
    http://www.sae.org/technical/standards/J1772_201001
    As far as the stations themselves. If they are UL listed or equiv. they should be good to go.
    I think the procedure for safety is in place.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    I think that this will be a minor issue that will resolve over time. All mfrs will go with 220V charging, and the shape/size of the plug can be duplicated at charging stations at low cost (think multiple nozzles at a single gas pump), and in-car communication via cell phone will ensure that you go to a charger compatible with your car. Mfrs will also quickly realize that while proprietary systems hold the promise of locking in customers, that same proprietariness will suppress consumer demand, and mfrs will design in a basic level of universality to their charging systems. The tricky part will be intelligent charging, where the battery pack is controlling the charging for maximum speed and battery life.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    SAE J1772-2009 has been adopted by GM, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Tesla.

    This standard already supports 240V/70A charging. I suspect that CHAdeMO will integrate into SAE J1772, as the other proposal (IEC 62196-2-X) is a superset of SAE J1772.

  • avatar
    findude

    The EV hobbyist community (check out evalbum.com) for the most part piggybacks on the existing infrastructure. In the USA this means the standard 110-120V 3-prong outlets you see in your homes and everywhere or the big 220V outlet like the one your dryer is plugged into.

    Seriously, use the existing infrastructure. We’ll probably need something new for 440V charging outlets and maybe even higher. For most folks their EV will usually charge the same way their cell phone does, plugged into a wall outlet while you sleep.

    Yes, it will get more sophisticated over time, but let’s just use what we already have while this is getting off the ground.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    What’s wrong with inductive charging?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “I don’t want a Hybrid…but I’d buy an EV to go with my normal gas car. It’s totally NOT there, though, as an only car….yet”

    Agreed! I need my Tahoe for it’s people hauling/towing abilities but I don’t need it to run to Target quick for diapers.

    That’s why the Volt will make a perfect 2nd car for us. The recharging away from home is a non-issue with the range extender, although I’m betting I’ll never need to fill the tank more than once every 6 months. Plus it’s nothing to wire 220VAC into my garage which means I could fully recharge it in about 3 hours.


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