It’s your turn to drive the carpool, so you pop out to the garage before you go to bed to make sure the car is plugged in, ensuring that there’ll be enough power to pick everyone up and get to work in the morning. Fantasy, or reality? For the electric vehicle (EV) movement, it’s a goal, but it might stall out before widespread adoption of EVs can even get off the ground, thanks to bickering between manufacturers over which charging standard to adopt.
As those of us with cell phones, laptops and other electronics know, conflicting charging standards can be a real pain. While universal charging seems like it should be an obvious goal for the electronics industry, it’s not, which is why it becomes necessary to maintain a stack of chargers for a variety of equipment, many of which are very expensive if you need to replace them. With multiple companies producing electric vehicles and establishing their own proprietary charging systems, the problem is being repeated, only on a much larger scale.
GM, Ford, BMW and Volkswagon favor the International J1772 Combo Standard, developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Unfortunately, Japanese automakers prefer CHAdeMO, another fast-charging standard developed in Japan. The two systems are not compatible, which means that cars developed for one can’t be charged with the other, and vice versa. Meanwhile, the Tesla Motor Company has another totally unrelated charging system, just to add to the confusion and the conflict over which way the industry should go.
For vehicle owners, this represents a problem, and it’s an issue for public charging stations and similar resources; what kind of station should be installed? Putting in more than one is a gamble, and gets costly as well, but putting in the wrong one could be a major mistake, because drivers wouldn’t be able to use it. Until the automakers make up their minds about which system will become the industry standard, it creates a significant form of limbo as people wait to see which system will dominate. The wait means that people are reluctant to adopt electric vehicles, because they can’t make decisions until they know whether their cars will be chargeable in their communities.
While the automakers obviously want to push the systems they’re comfortable with, and those they had a role in developing, something has to give here. It’s in the best interests of the industry overall to designate a universal charging standard and stick with it, creating something that will allow any car to be plugged into any charger. If the industry can’t make up its mind or holdout automakers insist on their own systems, we may be in for a fresh round of “who killed the electric car?”
There’s a lot of money at stake in the debate over which system should become universal, and this, of course, is the major sticking point; if everyone is too stubborn to give, everyone loses, but no one is willing to walk away from the table leaving years of work and millions of dollars in research and development investment behind. Yet, that’s exactly what is going to have to happen, and it might take government intervention to force the hands of the industry.
Meanwhile, the oil industry must be so delighted as the dithering over charging standards leaves the industry imbalanced and impatient for resolution.
Photo from Thinkstock
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