By on May 22, 2012

Today, members of CHAdeMO congregated in the 7th floor auditorium of Tokyo’s Big Sight for CHAdeMO’s  General Assembly 2012. CHAdeMO is a consortium of mostly Japanese companies with the target of establishing a standard for the charging of EVs. Also in the room was an invisible, but giant Godzilla. They called him “The Combo.” The combo is the product of (in Japanese views) an unholy alliance between U.S. and German OEMs which agreed on their own plug. The CHAdeMO and The Combo are utterly incompatible. Sparks are already flying.

CHAdeMO president Toshiyuki Shiga, normally COO of Leaf-producer Nissan, sets the tone of the meeting by saying that “in the U.S. and in Europe there is a movement to eliminate the CHAdeMO by making the combo a regional standard.” That snub probably is too subtle for American ears, but the Germans will get it and will be appropriately outraged.

The war of the plugs is on. Currently, it is only a war of words. “The Combo” was repeatedly derided today as “the plug without the cars.” This not-so-subtle putdown hints at the fact that the combo is still a nascent standard (the SAE is supposed to declare it a real one,) while CHAdeMO has been adopted by the tens of thousands who bought Nissan’s Leaf and some of Mitsubishi’s iMIEV.

When listening to proponents of either standard, one gets the impression that the plug is a matter of life and death, and fitting the wrong plug can mean the end of the EV as we know it.

Others don’t think so. CHAdeMO had invited Mariana Gerzanych, CEO of 350green, a company that builds electric car charging stations across America.

Allegedly, 350green will use the CHAdeMO plug. I ask Mariana Gerzanych what she thinks of the combo, and she thinks it is “good technology.” Asked which side of the plug wars 350green will be on, Gerzanych answers: “None. We will put both plugs on our fast chargers.”

Doing this is no big deal, various techies at the meeting tell me. The plug represents less than five percent of the cost of the system. Having two different plugs until the dust settles won’t be cost prohibitive. Technical differences of the battling chargers can be settled. CHAdeMO Europe’s Ronald de Haas and various others suggest that CHAdeMO should adopt The Combo’s “power level change during the session” and its narrower, but lower cost “voltage window.” This may sound like Greek to most of us, but at the conference, it did sound like a done deal.

CHAdeMO’s peace initiative does not sit too well with General Motors. At a public hearing convened last week by California Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, GM’s Manager of Environment & Energy Policy, Shad Balch, asked for an embargo of the CHAdeMO. Balch said that “we need to make sure, especially because we’re talking about taxpayer money,” that ONLY the upcoming SAE combo standard is installed going forward. Balch was boooo’d at the hearing, and Torquenews notes that “the SAE committee is dominated by automakers who are fighting Nissan for electric vehicle dominance.”

Asking to leave California’s many Leaf owners stranded, and to favor still non-existent owners of still non-existent EVs that comply with a still non-existent SAE standard, amounts to a real declaration of war, and a rather hamfisted one.

PS: While a spiky-haired President of Japan’s EV Club is on stage selling the idea of a massive round Japan EV rally, a source that requested anonymity whispers in my ear: “Forget it. This is Japan and the charging stations are closed at night.”

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22 Comments on “The War Of The Plugs: The Japanese Empire Talks Back...”

  • avatar

    Seems apropos…

  • avatar
    Some Guy

    As much as I hate to say it, I would think that it’s no big deal to have one standard for cars sold in (not by) Japan and cars sold in North America and Europe (I won’t get into other continents here)–especially if the article mentioned that the cost of the plug is only 5% of the cost of a charging station.

    We already deal with different electrical outlet shapes while traveling abroad; it’s not like many people will be paying to take their cars with them on vacation or move overseas permanently with them. But if they do, they can probably afford to pay for some conversion/adapter.

    In the end, this appears to be a pi$$ing contest, sort of like Beta vs. VHS and HD DVD and Blu Ray. If anything, these childish games will only slow electric vehicle adoption.

    But I do wonder about auto manufacturers trying to promote their own fast charging standard if they themselves discourage using fast charging often because it will shorten battery life. Or am I missing something here?

    • 0 avatar

      Fast charging is an important feature for the “range anxiety” people even if you only use it rarely and ordinarily do an overnight charge.

    • 0 avatar

      The usual issue is that someone has a patent and is charging license fees, while a competing standard might have lower fees (or be royalty-free if you’re a member of the association in question).

      The end-result of this is that, if ChaDeMo wins out, anyone who’s a member of that association pays less than those who developed Combo, and vice versa. When we’re talking something that could sell hundreds of thousands of units (or, god help up, millions), a significant change in royalty fees could mean millions or tens of millions of dollars.

      And yes, there’s the pissing contest aspect of it, too.

      • 0 avatar

        “Combo” is on track to be a free-license SAE standard, like the SAE J1772 plug that it’s based on. CHAdeMO’s IP is mostly owned by TEPCO.

      • 0 avatar

        Good info. Cuts through the BS.

      • 0 avatar
        schmitt trigger

        ““Combo” is on track to be a free-license SAE standard, like the SAE J1772 plug that it’s based on. CHAdeMO’s IP is mostly owned by TEPCO.”

        I can see the slogan now: “CHAdeMO technology, brought to you by the company who managed the Fukushima reactor”.

    • 0 avatar
      schmitt trigger

      The last thing that a new, struggling technology needs is a format war.
      Beta vs VHS were new, but they had so much appeal that they were not precisely struggling.

      The format war that sums it up better was the SuperAudio CD (SACD) vs DVD Audio. At the time that MP3 was gaining traction and users were discovering that tiny flash memories were far more convenient that discs, the competing camps started a war which ended with the defeat of both.

      I see electric vehicles facing a similar death…..Electric Vehicles are already facing an uphill climb, which could be made worse if we end up with a couple of incompatible standards.

      Swing-purcharsers may decide not to jump into the electric bandwagon. And thus EVs may never build enough critical mass to really become mainstream.

      Stupid and selfish, that’s what they are.

  • avatar

    “Balch said that “we need to make sure, especially because we’re talking about taxpayer money,” that ONLY the upcoming SAE combo standard is installed going forward. ”


    • 0 avatar

      It’s “disgusting” to fight for the standard that’s license-fee free?

    • 0 avatar

      How is that disgusting? It’s disgusting to want to support a standard that is backed by the majority of the auto industry?

      It’s a complete folly to back something like CHAdeMO simply because it was first. You back the thing that is better. That would be the combo plug for multiple reasons. It sucks for Leaf owners but it’s better this is decided now than later on down the line.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s backed by the majority of the industry that is way behind in electric cars and is trying to strangle their successful competitors. Kind of how _overwhelming_ majority of the nations signed and ratified Kyoto treaty. Don’t forget the majority that defeated gay marriage every time it was put to vote.

      • 0 avatar

        Pete – the US and Europe may be the majority in just a few years when cars like the electric Focus, plugin C-Max, plug-in Fusion hit the roads. Doesn’t the Volt now outsell the Leaf. So the head start (which is only a few tens of thousands out of a market in the US alone of >10 million units a year) is not necessarily going to stay that way.

        I would expect some DVD type solution with regional standards, unlike CD’s which have a global standard. A shame but both sides are strong enough (financially) and have enough governmental support to persevere.

      • 0 avatar

        The story is more complicated than that, of course. The original standard plug, during the post-EV1 revival of the electric car industry, was SAE J1772. This is a free-license SAE standard; virtually every electric vehicle uses it now. It only handled what we call “slow charging”; a maximum of 240V AC at 32A. Eventually this was bumped up to 80A in a later revision of the standard, but this still wasn’t going to cut it. They needed a really high voltage DC connection to handle true “fast charging”, and so a consortium of manufacturers got together to come up with a new plug that was still compatible with the old one for slow-charging purposes (which are still intended to be the main way to charge the car).

        Unfortunately, they took too long doing this. Meanwhile, TEPCO got together the infrastructure necessary to put in some quick-charging stations in a few strategic places in Japan, but they didn’t have any way to connect to the car. So they developed their own connector, CHAdeMO, and dealt with Nissan and Mitsubishi to have this new connector put on their upcoming electric cars. CHAdeMO is not freely licensed; there’s a per-connector license fee that gets paid to TEPCO, for both the charger-side and the car-side of the connection. Maybe it’s the “CHAdeMO consortium” rather than TEPCO individually now; I haven’t kept up that well on the business end. There’s a couple of problems with the CHAdeMO plug. The technical one that irritates me from a computer security standpoint is that it uses CANbus to communicate with the car; this isn’t necessarily unsafe in and of itself but it’s really easy for the automaker to do it “the wrong way” and open your car’s network to a security vulnerability. The biggie, though, is that there’s no guarantee that TEPCO will license the connector under reasonable and non-discriminatory terms: i.e. if TEPCO doesn’t like your company, they can arbitrarily just not let you use CHAdeMO for your charger or car or whatever even if you’re willing to pay. For obvious reasons we don’t like to have industry standards based on that sort of thing.

        Anyway, recently, the J1772-compatible “combo” plug was created, but now there are at least two major manufacturers who have incumbent fleets of electric cars with the CHAdeMO plug, including a non-trivial number of Nissan Leaf buyers in the USA who opted for the extra-cost option for the quick-charge plug even though there weren’t any charge points on this continent at the time.

        So, this is basically going to be a huge mess.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Deck chairs on the Titanic. BEVs are obsolete technology with no future and their plugs are irrelevant.

  • avatar

    I don’t know which is which, but that thing on the left looks like a cross between a gas pump nozzle and a light saber.

    For all the posturing and debate among manufacturers and their engineer-marketers, mass adoption of a new technology often comes down to stupid stuff like: which thing looks like it should be installed in a house? The charger on the right (orange cable) seems far homey-er than the industrial-looking monstrosity on the left.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure which one is which either. But the one on the left looks way cooler than the other one.

      I think the orange cord on the unit on the right is all wrong. However, it has a handle so it’s probably easier to use.

      Ahh, what wonderful first world problems we have to concern ourselves with.

    • 0 avatar

      The one on the the left is the CHAdeMO. On the right, the SAE “combo”. Both are far larger than the images here (lacking any sort of size reference) make them seem.

    • 0 avatar

      Neither of these will ever be installed at your home, its used in 30 minute fast chargers.. chargers that use tri-phase power and deliver 400V DC at up to 125A

      Apparently the chademo plugs cost about $2500, the non-existant SAE Combo might be much less.

      • 0 avatar

        $2500?? Makes the $100 screwdriver that the airplane manufacturers used to sock the government for look like a pretty good deal. What would possibly make a plug, unless Monster or other audio company made it(joke)worth any more than maybe $50, tops?

  • avatar

    GM, with men like Shad Balch, makes me proud to be an American. Actually, maybe proud isn’t the word I’m looking for.

  • avatar

    Good to see the genuine concern by GM for the use of Taxpayer money! In all seriousness though, If the government of California is involved arent they at least somewhat obligated to consider the Californians who actually already own an EV already over say, the company that hopes to produce one maybe one day? If I were a California EV owner and was shut out by my own government I’d be pretty upset. We’ll see though as I dont think there are a lot of Detroit lovers in the California assembly.

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