Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J-1772 "combo" electric-car charging plug
It's almost the size of a misshapen softball, but it may be the charging combo you will have to use for quick charging on future electric cars.
The U.S. Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is in the process of expanding its J-1772 standard for an electric-car coupler from the current round plug-and-socket fitting that is now used on every electric cars sold in the U.S. except for the Tesla Roadster.
The goal is to add a standard for higher-voltage DC quick charging, allowing a single socket and plug to be used for anything from 110-Volt AC charging at 15 Amperes all the way up to a high-voltage standard sufficient to recharge 80 percent of an electric car's battery pack in 30 minutes.
Eaton CHAdeMO DC quick charging station, Mitsubishi headquarters, Cypress, CA
There is, of course, already an existing standard that does exactly that: the Japanese CHAdeMO quick-charge standard, already offered on the Nissan Leaf (the very popular option for 2011 will be standard on the SL trim level for 2012) and soon the 2012 Mitsubishi 'i' as well.
While there's only a single working CHAdeMO charging station in the U.S. at the moment, in Portland, more than 130 have already been installed in Japan and hundreds more are on the way.
Why not simply adopt the CHAdeMO standard, to prevent a VHS vs. BetaMax standoff? The problem, it appears, is that North American automakers don't like the idea of two separate charging ports (one for J-1772, one for CHAdeMO). They want a single, integrated coupler.
Well, the Nissan Leaf has a single door in the nose that covers its two separate sockets. And as you can see from the photo, the proposed SAE standard is essentially two plugs and sockets welded into single Frankenstein-like contraptions.
Equally as important as the coupler itself are the communications protocols behind it, which the SAE is developing jointly with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The professional society defines numerous standards for electrical equipment.
Scenes from dedication of electric-car charging station at Creekside Inn, Palo Alto, CA
And, to be fair, those communications protocols build on the existing J-1772 code and messaging, rather than using an entirely different digital "language" as the CHAdeMO standard does.
The SAE hopes to finalize and issue the standard in the first quarter of 2012.
Thus, it appears that the photo above shows the socket you'll get if you buy an electric car in North America in coming model years, and the plug you will have to use if you want to quick-charge.
Elegant, ain't it?