GM and Nissan trade punches over electric car fast charging
A big battle is being fought over the charging socket of electric cars, one in which billions of dollars in coming infrastructure expenditures and market share are at stake, as well as the success of mainstream electric vehicle adoption. Today a very instructive pair of salvos were fired during a public California State Senate Committee meeting, chaired by State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, on the topic of Electric Vehicle Deployment. In the exchange a GM representative called to limit adoption of DC Fast Chargers to only those which conform to the upcoming SAE DC Fast Charge standard, while a Nissan representative described the CHADEMO connector, available on the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf, as the only existing fast charging standard, and one that meets the needs of todays market.
The broad ranging committee meeting took testimony on the state of California's electric vehicle deployment, on the manufacturers perspective regarding California's electric vehicle deployment, and on electric vehicle infrastructure issues. The shots between GM and Nissan took only 10 minutes out of the 2+ hours of the meeting, and offered a glimpse into the battle being fought between the automakers for dominance in electric cars.
CHADEMO was developed in Japan, and was first deployed for electric vehicle charging by TEPCO beginning in 2008. Data from that time shows that when the CHADEMO network was installed, electric car utilization shot way up. The assumption is that the existence of fast charging infrastructure goes a long ways to erasing range anxiety, giving electric car owners the freedom of mind to drive their cars. There is every expectation that as fast charging networks are built in the U.S. the same will occur. But there is a battle brewing between two competing standards for DC Fast Charging, the CHADEMO standard being used now by Nissan and Mitsubishi, and the SAE DC Fast Charging standard being pushed by GM and an alliance of 8 total car manufacturers.
In the meantime states and charging network operators are getting ready to build DC Fast Charging networks, with CHADEMO. California's settlement with NRG that enabled building a large charging station network in California, is in part an endorsement of CHADEMO. 350Green is building networks in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Chicago, of CHADEMO fast charging stations.
These are stakes on the table. Electric vehicle adoption and utilization will be helped tremendously with networks of fast charging stations. There is a battle for market position, with GM and Nissan being the primary players with electric cars on the market. There is an existing standard (CHADEMO) with years of experience behind it, versus a new standard, that might be available in cars next year, if all goes right. And we have states and corporations spending money today on electric car DC fast charging network deployment.
GM's Shad Balch, Manager of Environment & Energy Policy, let loose the opening salvo when naming off a series of priorities GM has that will aid electric vehicle adoption. The first three priorities were very uncontroversial, focusing on making it easier for individuals and businesses to deploy electric car charging station infrastructure, and to ensure the public infrastructure is built in places where it will be used.
His final point was on standards, starting by noting the industry had successfully settled on the J1772 charging connector. In the previous era of electric vehicle adoption, only 10 years ago, the various automakers made different choices for charging plugs. It meant the charging infrastructure installed at that time cost twice as much as it should have cost, because each installation had to install both kinds of charging stations. It was a pain that "we" do not want to repeat again., and J1772 was the solution.
Balch went on to describe the current situation as a "hodgepodge of fast charging standards" with Tesla having its own proprietary level 3 system, Nissan and Mitsubishi using CHADEMO. He noted that last week, at EVS26, an alliance of 8 automakers (including GM) announced support for a the "combo plug" designed by the SAE DC Fast Charging committee. He described this as "a new standard," one "that is going to come, probably before the end of this year," meaning the SAE committee is expected to approve the standard this summer, charging stations are expected to become available late in the year, and cars to become available in 2013.
The bombshell then landed when Balch said "we need to make sure, especially because we're talking about taxpayer money, that ONLY those standards are installed going forward." Meaning that because the SAE DC Fast Charge standard is the only "standardized" fast charging system, this is the system to endorse. Balch was actually boooo'd at this point, but he went on to remind us of the past history, that we know its a bad move to have competing charging connector standards. Finally, he said "there is a very small group of cars that use a non-standardized level 3 charging connector," referring to the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the upcoming Tesla Model S.