Is Nissan's $9,900 Quick-Charger a Breakthrough for Electric Cars?

By · November 14, 2011

Nissan's low-cost quick charger

Nissan is rolling out DC quick-chargers in Europe, and will soon offer them in the United States for $10,000.

In January 2012, Nissan will begin taking orders for a low-cost 480-volt DC quick-charger that can recharge a Nissan LEAF from "empty" to 80-percent capacity in 30 minutes. A quick top-up of an electric vehicle's battery—say from half empty to nearly full—could happen in about five or six minutes. "That makes it the equivalent of stopping for gas," said Brendan Jones, Nissan's director of LEAF marketing and sales strategy.

That quick-charge capability has been in place for some time, but the cost has been in measured in the multiple tens of thousands of dollars. The news here, which might even be considered a breakthrough, is that Nissan's quick-charger will sell for $10,000. When I spoke with Michael Farkas, the CEO of Car Charging Group, he said, "The sweet spot for DC fast charging is about $12,000 to $15,000." It appears that Nissan has put more sugar in the sweet spot, by bringing the price down to $10,000. This could allow municipalities, small business (and even groups of EV owners), to sprinkle quick charging across popular EV markets. The cost of installation remains the wild card.

Jointly developed by Nissan and Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo Corporation, the DC quick-charge station is a compact unit designed specifically for the US market. The charger uses the CHAdeMO quick charging protocol and operates on 480 volts.

With a starting price of only $9,900, Nissan’s quick charger costs roughly one third the price of comparable units available today, according to the Japanese automaker. Additionally, Nissan claims that the unit is one half the size of most of the currently available DC quick chargers, while still retaining identical performance.

Brian Carolin, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Nissan North America, stated, "A low-cost DC quick charger unlocks the potential for unprecedented electric vehicle use and adoption. We anticipate thousands of these chargers will be installed across the country."

Nissan and Sumitomo will launch an online charger ordering system in January 2012. Installation of the DC quick-charge units will begin in spring of 2012.

The Race Between Low-Cost Quick-Charging and Battery Swapping

Meanwhile, Better Place—the biggest champion of EV battery swapping—has secured an additional $200 million through a Series C equity financing round from a consortium of top-tier investors. Since its establishment in 2007, Better Place has raised more than $750 million globally.

"We are entering the next phase of growth for our company where we prove that our solution works, that it’s in demand, and that it scales, as we begin to push into new markets and attract new investors and new partners," said Shai Agassi, CEO of Better Place.

Better Place battery switching station

Better Place battery switching station in Japan.

Better Place says demand in Israel from both fleets and consumers has soared, with more than 400 corporations, representing a potential of 80,000 employee vehicles, signing letters of intent with Better Place. In Denmark—where this summer I was able to drive through its first European battery swap station—nearly 7,000 residents have visited the Better Place Center, with 90 percent of the visitors expressing some interest in buying an electric vehicle in the future.

The creation of more EV charging possibilities, in whatever form, can't be an entirely bad thing. Although, as I discussed with Shai Agassi a few weeks ago,
I'm still having trouble seeing how expensive battery swapping stations can scale up to accommodate millions of plug-in vehicles or compete with widespread deployment of quick-chargers (combined with home charging, which is and will continue to be the way most EV owners get a charge).

Regardless, the build-out of Better Place's swapping and charging network—combined with a low-cost high-volume quick-charging product—makes one thing clear: it's only a matter of months (not years) before EV owners will have abundant opportunities to juice up on the go.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.