More Electric Cars, Not Charging Technology, Key To Mass Adoption

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Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars

Tesla Supercharger fast-charging system for electric cars

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It’s no secret that electric cars sales in the U.S.--and elsewhere in the world--aren’t as high as automakers and electric car advocates would like. 

The reasons given for this are many and varied: some commentators say plug-in cars are simply too expensive; others say that the lack of charging infrastructure, combined with limited range per charge, means electric cars aren’t practical.

The recent unveiling of a network of proprietary supercharger rapid charge stations by electric automaker Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] was a clear attempt to address the latter, finally making long-distance trips by electric car more feasible.

But is Tesla’s decision to move away from an already-agreed charging standard just muddying the waters?  Should electric car fans and automakers focus on something else, like making more electric cars?

According to electric vehicle advocate Chelsea Sexton, the answer to those questions is a resounding yes. 

Writing for Wired, Sexton argues that the battle between different automakers and charging station providers for the ultimate in charging technology is an unwelcome distraction from the real challenge facing the electric car world: getting more cars on the road.

As Sexton points out, electricity isn’t the problem: it’s ubiquitous, simple to use, and an ideal vehicle fuel. 

CHAdeMO standard - on ECOtality DC fast charger

CHAdeMO standard - on ECOtality DC fast charger

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Fighting over charging connectors by building new, unnecessary ones--simply because the existing standard is viewed as too large, inelegant, or not powerful enough--is making that electricity harder to use in cars. 

Just like any other consumer product, fighting over proprietary connector technology adds extra complexity, keeps prices up, excludes competition, and frustrates customers.

“Not only is Tesla alienating the rest of the EV industry and community with its Supercharger, it is ensuring its own drivers won’t be able to use the vast majority of fast charging in this country,” Sexton notes.

“Many of them, in fact, will be left out altogether since fast charging capability is unavailable on the lowest-range Model S.”

Tesla, she says, like many other automakers, is preoccupied with proving that electric cars can do everything gasoline cars can do. 

Instead, Sexton suggests, automakers should focus on making and selling electric cars, rather than bickering about the intricacies of charging connectors. 

J1772 Tesla Mobile Connector

J1772 Tesla Mobile Connector

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After all, she notes, a charging standard already exists: it’s called SAE J1772. It was put in place to standardize both the mechanical connections and electronic communications between a charging station and an electric car. 

With the J1772 standard providing a ubiquitous standard for 240-Volt Level 2 charging--at either 3.3 or 6.6 kilowatts, depending on what charger automakers fit in their electric cars--arguments over fast charging standards risk confusing the public over whether it's possible to charge the cars at all.

For example, Tesla's Supercharger quick charge system isn't compatible with a Chademo quick charge system. And neither quick charge systems can be used with the slower, level 2 charging system commonly found on most Level 2, 240-volt, public charging stations.

The problem isn’t just relegated to Tesla either. Nissan and Mitsubishi both use the Chademo standard for rapid charging electric cars. Ratified as a standard in Japan, Chademo hasn't been officially acknowledged as a charging standard in the U.S.

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Comments (30)
  1. The Sexton quote loses its punch without including the first line from story claiming the charger wars only amounts to a "bleeping contest".

    Anyway, I blame John Voelcker for this mess after he called the SAE Combo connector a monstrosity. Dude, a SAE standard is preferable to the current mess.

  2. @John: You vastly overstate my power. If I ran the world, Things. Would. Be. Different.

    Seriously, while a fast-charging standard is surely preferable to none, many Leaf + i-MiEV owners would say we already HAVE one, already installed + working: CHAdeMO.

    SAE Combo backers offer many important long-term technical limitations in the CHAdeMO standard. I can't assess those.

    But there is also a strong belief--with some justification, perhaps--that U.S. + German makers felt they could eliminate fast-charging as a competitive advantage for Japanese makers by allying to create a different, incompatible standard that would block global CHAdeMO use.

    In the old days, we'd have called that FUD.

  3. Well reasoned.

    However... SAE combo offers one single connection with backward compatibility to J1772. That is what I call a winner and I hope it goes that way.

  4. Some of the Chademo stations offer only 22 kW. That would take over 4 hours to charge a Tesla model S with an 80 + kw hr pack.

    How is that a "fast" charger?

    Even the theoretically fastest Chademo at around 60 kW is still nearly two hours to charge the big Model S pack

    Chademo is only fast for a tiny little Leaf pack or similar.

    Are you all not capable of math? Or not capable of seeing past the needs of your personal car to the needs of others or the future?

  5. CHAdeMO in its current form supports 200A, or 100kW at 500VDC.

    The reason few DCFC have been dialed down, sadly, is only to not trigger "demand charges" levied by some utilities. It's a financial decision, not a technological limitation.

  6. Perhaps the simple reason is manufacturers are not interested in building EV, because they can't completed with Tesla. Why rush into building inferior EVs and promoting advantages of owning and driving EVs when they can continue make to big, fat profit and do what they do best? Sell ICE vehicles? just look at Nissan Leaf, it is a built from the ground-up as an EV. Nissan made a huge investment, new factory in TN that can built 150,000 a year, but they will be lucky to sell 5% of that. The Leaf is a fine piece of engineering. I leased and drove one almost everyday for the past 19 months, racking up 23,000 miles. But I am losing battery life and 70 miles real world range is just not nearly enough. It is tough to build a good EV.

  7. There is no mess. This is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Tesla's onboard charger can use any of the charging standards.

    Tesla's standard is faster and a more turnkey solution. Low cost, environmentally sound.

    We can pillory Elon Musk for going his own way, but look at the results from the current charging standard: they clearly DO NOT inspire any confidence in the buying public.

    Range anxiety (whether based in reality or in drivers' minds) is a fact of life and usually the first objection from a car buyer.

    Unless electric cars are BETTER than ICE, then the shift will be glacial.

    The Supercharger allows you to put 150 miles on your battery in 30 minutes. For free. Show me how SAE is better.

  8. I'm sorry but Sexton is dead wrong. And I am surprised that she is so out of touch with the real EV issues since she's been personally involved with this industry for so long.

    There is no such thing as fast Level 2 charging with a J-1772 connector. Tesla Motors is continually raising the bar by demonstrating what is possible with EV transportation. The existing public charging infrastructure is primarily 240V, 30A. This will give an EV driver 18miles of range per hour charged. This will never support mass adoption of EVs. Both Tesla & the gen. public know this. The only places those chargers really benefit drivers are places where the driver will spend a minimum of several hours (home/work/airports). Tesla's supercharger is welcome

  9. I was at the Natick Mall the other day and was please to see charging stations... Oh no wait, those are for Tesla's only, I can use them, fail....

  10. Intellectually Chelsea knows better, but following the unfortunate firing of her husband from his job at Tesla perhap she’s no longer in a frame of mind to be completely objective with regard to Tesla. Surely someone with her background knows that the so-called “standards”, even the existing “quick” chargers available today are inadequate to address the requirements of a Tesla Model S with an 85 kWh battery. How long should a Model S owner on a roadtrip have to wait for a charge in the interests of adhering to flawed “standards”? Or how muscular does my wife have to be to wrestle the bulky connector and cable into the “standardized” charging port? Tesla is simply employing innovative and superior engineering to accommodate its customers.

  11. @DM - how many miles do you drive per day and do you drive long distances? EVs are still in their infancy and 18-miles per charge hour is great for most people. Since most charging is done at night and most people don't drive 100+ miles a day, a good majority can use L2 6.6KW. However, I think what you are saying is something like "because people usually drive more than 100 miles a day and their EVs don't go 100 miles, such as the Leaf, we need faster charging". Not sure if that really fits as the studies done include findings that 80% of drivers travel under 40 miles per day. That includes urban shorter-commuting. In some suburbia, drivers do 40+ miles a day each way to work and something simple like 120V at work plugs solves more.

  12. John - Sure, most drivers don't travel 100+ miles a day. But, most drivers will want to drive 100+ miles a day periodically. Try asking them to invest in a car that won't support that and you get push back. If an EV is relegated to being a "City Car", then market it that way, and price it accordingly (

  13. The connector is not important, but the charging time is.
    The public will never accept an EV that takes hours to charge, people "perceive" a need to "fill up" quickly, while it may not always be needed, people buy products on what they perceive they need, not what they actually need.

    The SuperCharger network was an absolutely brilliant move on Teslas part, 30 minute charging for 150 mies of range, and, it's free for life, and many will be powered by solar energy (taking care of another objection. "It's powered by dirty coal")

    SAE wasn't defined at the time of the Model S's design, and it's rather unwieldy to handle, Teslas solution is much easier to use, and it's a single connector or both L2 up to 80A AC (62 MPH/hour of charge), or DCFC.

  14. I'm absolutely fine with 120V charging for my Volt. If people plugged in every night when they arrived home, whether Tesla, Leaf, Volt, etc - 240V 3.3KW or 6.6KW should support almost everyone. The "debate" is what to do for the 10-20% of future EV drivers who need daily 100-200 mile range. Those, to me, are outliers rather than a norm. This is America, however, and we "always want more".

  15. Making an under powered solution the standard is no way to encourage people to use it, or the surrounding technology.

  16. Beyond plug standards, there are charge network access/payment standards to worry about. The plug may fit, but no keycard, no range juice!

    IMO the plug(s) used by the majority of vehicles on the road will set the standard. We don't see many paddle charges today as manufactures stopped using the form factor. The great thing about electricity, is it can be converted efficiently, so we are more likely to adapt. (via connectors/boxes).

    With large network of J1772 chargers in existence, Tesla offers a J1772 adapter. How long before someone creates an adaptor to plug a J1772 into Tesla's free high power solar super chargers? (Does Tesla require a key-fob to access?)

    Now, when will manufactures offer more EV models outside of California?

  17. I'm not sure it matters if the charging standards aren't 100% compatible as long as converters/adapters are made available or the chargers have more then out output.

  18. Here are some additional facts to consider:
    - The existing J1772 connector (not even Combo) is also rated up to 80A@240V = 19.2kW. Tesla drove this into the J1772 standard, but then didn't leverage it.
    - Perhaps, the unique Tesla supercharger network is a brilliant strategy in another way. Tesla has J1772 adapters to their connector so they can use any public J1772 EVSE with their with unique connector, no one else besides Tesla drivers can use the Tesla Supercharger network. Tesla owners will not have to fight with any other PEV drivers for time slots on the Supercharger network but yet they can use everyone elses charging charging station.

  19. Yes, the Model S is very flexible as far as charging goes, comes with a portable charging cable that can plug into most RV Parks 14-50 outlets, or an electric range outlet, charge rate 31MPH/per hour of charge. Also comes with a standard 120V plug that fits on that cable, although the charge rate is only 5MPH/per hour of charge on 120V, and as pointed out above, any J-1772 Public EVSE can also be used, but most of them are 30A, and that's not the fastest/optimal rate for a Model S... Then they have the SuperCharger DCFC as well... So it's very likely the Tesla connector could become the defacto standard, as its the most flexible/versatile, and after there are tens of thousands of them produced, it will be way more common than J-1772

  20. Don't disagree with Tesla becoming the standard (possibly) but why 10,000 chargers. There's just no need, even if Tesla has 1M cars on the road.

    As others have pointed out, most charging will be done at home. Longer trips (5% or less) will require supercharging. That's less than 50,000 trip needing supercharging. With each Supercharger having 4-8 chargers(expandable), there's just no need for gas station-like coverage.

  21. J1772 isn't a charger at all, it delivers AC that is useless to your battery, so you require a big heavy expensive charger to be on each car still to make DC that the battery can do something with. It's like if you went to a gas station and they sold you crude-oil and you had to carry around a mini refinery somewhere in your car to process it into what is useful for your car to use. From a charging perspective, J1772 offers nothing you don't get from a $8.99 dryer plug and outlet.

    CHAdeMO stations are actually battery chargers (unlike a j1772) that deliver directly what your battery needs to the battery. This lets the 400lbs box of power electronics to make a 50kW charger sit off-board the vehicle where it belongs rather than inside.

  22. External DC charging is the future. Very true. I you have a family with three EVs at home - you don't want to buy 3 on-board chargers. Cost of scale means that one external faster-charger could solve some cost-containment of EVs for families or fleets with many EVs.

  23. John, I understand your point but I think you're assuming that an onboard charger must be big and expensive, yet Renault can include one in its little Zoe - which sells in Europe for about 15k euro plus battery - so it may not be an issue. I understand it reuses the motor controller 'in reverse' and so is not an extra big bit of kit.
    With an internal charger - and the Zoe can take up to 43kW fast charging - you can plug into almost any power source anywhere and it will use it appropriately to charge as fast as it can.

  24. Oh contraire, Luke. J1772 is primarily a safety standard (the connector is dead until after it is engaged in the car receptacle) and it tells the car how much current it can safely draw.

    The little kids near a charging station stick their tongue into the connector? Nothing happens if it is J1772. Your solution? Dead kids.

    You want millions of people to have have to remember to set the car to 12 amps when they plug into a home outlet and then 50 amps at an RV park?

    It does not work. You get lots of tripped breakers (no charge at all) and lots of cars charging much more slowly than expected.

    Might do nothing for you, but for Fred and Ethel and their little Johnny, it is necessary.

  25. J 1772 is standard in the USA and Japan. Mode3 is in Europe.
    Chargiung at 3,3 kW responds to the needs of 99% of the users (drive at day time, charge at night time).
    6,6 kW is nice, but for almost all unnecessary.
    Anything above that is guilding the lily.
    BEV's are short-distance means of transportation.
    If you put >80 kWh into a car, you cater to the 1% who want, but do not need. And you need different technology. With a nuclear power plant nearby?.
    Trucks also need higher output pumps than cars....
    Everybody, and that certainly includes GM, Nissan, Renault, Daimler, the startups and the OEM's to follow will built what the market will take.
    We are starting a paradigm change, that takes time. It will really work when everything else hurts

  26. "Almost all unnecessary" is the key. We aren't playing horseshoes where almost is good enough. How do you replace the ICE when you cannot (without a great deal of inconvenience) a trip longer than a few hundred miles?

    When you have the answer to that, you'll understand why FAST charging is a necessity.

  27. I hope we are not getting into a "Beta vs. VHS" war with charging stations.

  28. So far, Tesla and Nissan are the only "willing" competitors. All the others, are reluctant participants. So not much of a competition yet.

  29. Chademo allows me to get 35 miles of range in 11 minutes. ya, ELEVEN minutes. when the charge starts, i get a Kwh in 75 seconds. as the pack fills, the charging rate drops. charging the bottom 2/3rds of the pack besides saving time also puts less strain and heat on the pack.


    i can tell you, Fast charging is a game changer. i may not be able to drive across the country conveniently in my LEAF but the ability to drive from one end of Puget Sound to the other on electric is AWESOME!

  30. I am all for one standard but sometimes, you have to be radical and break out the mold such as during the AIDS epidemic, people went out to the street protested and did not wait for the well established convention to wait for new medication approval process because time was critical. Tesla Superchargers are critical and active right now in CA then the rest of USA in 2 years while the rest of industry is still scratching their heads.

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