SAE Releases EV Quick Charging Standard, But Debate Continues

By · October 15, 2012

CHAdeMo versus Combo Cord

You say Combo Cord (top) and I say CHAdeMo (bottom). Let's call the whole thing off.

After years of discussion and wrangling, SAE International today announced that its new technical standard for the quick charging of electric cars and plug-in hybrids has been approved and published. Any characterization of this new standard as a “breakthrough” or “game-changer” should be taken with a giant grain of salt—because, in fact, it does nothing to resolve the debate about the best coupler device for EV quick charging.

Many industry insiders see it as a step backward. Arun Banskota, president, electric vehicle services at NRG Energy, a few months ago told me, “The longer this continues with more than one standard, the more challenging it is for service providers like ourselves, and for consumers.” Kristen Helsel, director of EV Services at Aerovironment, a manufacturer of EV charging equipment for more than 20 years, added, “We’ll have to develop multiple products, so it makes it more expensive,” said Helsel.

I have already lost hours of my life trying to make sense of DC Quick Charging standards, so let me share a transcript of (an imaginary) conversation between proponents of the CHAdeMO protocol and the new SAE combo chord.

Fly on the Wall

Pro-CHAdeMO: Our plug works! Why fix what ain’t broken? It’s out there and being used everyday by EV drivers.

Pro-Combo: Are you kidding me? One thousand or so CHAdeMO quick chargers, and 10,000 or so cars that can use them? That’s nothing. It’s completely nascent considering that the EV market will grow to 1 million or more in the next five years. Let’s build the right plug for the long haul.

Pro-CHAdeMO: Combo chord doesn’t improve anything. Your approach just derails our momentum. It's a poke in our eye, just because we led the way. We already have the right plug.

Pro-Combo: That heavy ugly toe-breaking monster? Our DC Combo cord is a smaller and lighter connector. One thing to connect is better than two things. Read my lips: One is better than two.

Pro-CHAdeMO: But drivers never use AC and DC charging at the same time. Combining the cords is a non-issue.

Pro-Combo: But our inlet can use the gasoline filler door, which saves a lot of money instead of punching a new hole in the sheet metal, just because it’s an EV.

Pro-CHAdeMO: That makes no sense. Cost reductions will not come from a new piece of hardware. It’ll come from reaching production scale. That scale is already underway by companies that really believe in EVs, not you guys [pretending to cough while under breath, saying “GM, Ford, Germans”]. Scale will come from companies most committed to EVs and who build them from the ground up, and are those using CHAdeMo.

Pro-Combo: Your communications protocol is so yesterday. We’re using power line communications (PLC) so we can link up to the web.

Pro-CHAdeMO: Excuse me. Our cars are already wirelessly connected to the web. Besides, we use CANBUS communication. That’s the on-board communication system that allows the charging equipment to know what’s going on with the battery, its state of charge, and health. Puleeeze.

Tesla: Yoo hoo. Hey guys. We’re over here. Our cars use the same small sleek connector for Level 2 and DC Quick Charging. It’s smaller, simpler and faster than both of your approaches.

Chinese EV Makers: Hello? How come we didn't get an invitation to this meeting? Did you see our charging plug and outlet? In case you forgot, we’re the biggest auto market in the world, and soon will be the biggest EV market in the world.

Round and round it goes. Let’s face it. There are no standards for quick charging.

And after more than a year-and-a-half with my Nissan LEAF, I have yet to use my DC Quick Charge port. When my lease is up, and I shop for a new EV in early 2014, the last thing I'll worry about, or pay extra for, is a quick charge port.

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