CHAdeMO General Assembly Contemplates SAE Plug Competition

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, set 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 was 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, the company that will use the $120 million settlement from NRG to build electric car charging stations across California.

Allegedly, 350green will use the CHAdeMO plug. I asked 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 other suggested 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.

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  • Van

    It sounds like matching the power and voltage windows would facilitate a simple adapter. Hence the “war” seems to be more sound than fury, and much ado about nothing. Time will tell

  • Jerry

    This is no war. It’s akin to Iraq invading Kuwait and then the US led collation forces pushing them out like brushing an ant off your arm.
    Yes CHAdeMO is here first but once the SAE standard is formally adopted it’s the death kneel for CHAdeMO in the US and Europe.
    Of course CHAdeMO will continue in Japan – after all it’s their standard, but Nissan an Mitsubishi WILL be shipping care to the US and Europe with the SAE combo plug by 2014/2015, regardless of how they dig their heels in the sand now. This war is over before it began.

  • perfectapproach

    Betamax vs VHS, Blu-ray vs HD-DVD, etc, etc. I just hope it ends soon. A long, protracted battle is gonna be bad for the EV business.

    On the flipside, there might be a market for Combo-to-Chademo converters… ?

  • Tony Williams

    Thanks for reporting this. I don’t believe the costs to add an SAE nozzle will be quite as simple as throwing on an extra hose on the ChadeMo charger.

    The timeline in something like this:

    Summer to Fall 2012 – SAE votes to approve Combo “Frankenplug”

    Fall to Winter 2012 – Some charger manufacturers begin implementation of Combo in existing ChadeMo or dedicated units.

    Spring 2013 – Prototyping

    Summer – Fall 2013 – Submissions to UL or other laboratories.

    Summer 2014 – UL listing

    Fall 2015 – first UL approved Combo chargers deployed

    At the same time, there will be hundreds of ChadeMo chargers in the most prominent locations in the USA; western states of Washington and Oregon and California. That’s where the bulk of electric vehicles are sold and will be sold.

    Also, Nissan / Infiniti will have sold tens of thousands of ChadeMo cars in that area. GM will have sold token amounts of Sparks (just enough to be California CARB compliant) and not all will even have a Combo plug (every LEAF except about 10% of 2011 models have the ChadeMo plug).

    BMW, of the 9 manufactures signing on with the Combo plug, will be the only other car that I would expect to even “make a go” against the ChadeMo cars. Because their cars are going to be more expensive than a LEAF or Mitsubishi iMiev, it’s likely they won’t come close to the sales volume. All the rest are merely token efforts so far (that market in the USA… Renault does not and neither does Peugeot, which is signed on with ChadeMo anyway).

    Neither Ford nor Chrysler have announced any plans for any Combo car whatsoever. I doubt a Smart EV will have any fast charge capabilities. Other Daimler efforts (for Mercedes) are currently with Tesla technology. The other Tesla company collaboration is with Toyota, and it does not use any DC charging.

    To me, the single biggest swing vote is Toyota. Should they decide to build more EVs than then 2600 required to meet the minimum requirement for the state of California, AND decide to use SAE over ChadeMo, I would say SAE *might* have a chance. Otherwise, it doesn’t look good, if Nissan and other Japanese manufacturers hold the course.

    By 2020, there will be a next generation standard superseding both anyway!!!

  • perfectapproach

    Hopefully, by 2020, we’ll have newer battery technology too.

  • Mariana 350Green

    350Green is NOT using NRG settlement to install charging stations throughout CA.

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    I don’t think the auto makers are the one that hold the cards… I think the maker of charging stations are the one that having the major saying. Those EVs have to find stations to charge….

  • Collin Burnell

    I think the question should be “How do we design a standard charging system that allows for a wide variety of plugs / voltages / etc. including some that have not been invented yet?” This is a new industry and new standards and new innovations are inevitable.

  • kdawg

    It will all be moot when everything goes to wireless charging.

  • Sandy

    Was is over in Europe? Really? I was just over in Norway and rented a Leaf. I drove 100’s of miles between Oslo and Lillehammer, etc. and there were CHAdeMO chargers all the way. Norway right now is providing HUGE tax and fee advantages to Leaf buyers, and they are selling well over there. No sales tax, no highway tax, free passage on ferries, tunnels and bridges, access to taxi and bus lanes, free parking downtown, free charging at 15 Amps 230 V. There will soon be enough Leaf owners in Norway that I see NO WAY that the Norwegian government will alllow CHAdeMO to be removed from the Statoil stations. Yes, they may eventually put other plugs on the fast chargers, but I see NO WAY the CHAdeMO will go away any time soon. It’s already too late to roll it back quickly.