Within a few years, it may be possible to drive an electric car from northern Germany to the south of Spain after all.

Worries over the possibility of incompatible European electric-car charging standards are starting to abate, after a proposal by several European automakers for a single European plug standard.

The proposed standards include the plug attached to public charging stations, the socket mounted in the car itself, and the communications protocols with which the two connect. It also includes both slow and fast charging using both direct and alternating current.

Ivan Hodec, secretary general of the European automakers group ACEA, called the proposal "a major step towards the broader introduction of electrically-chargeable vehicles in Europe," saying it would pave the way for "a harmonised solution around the globe."

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car at quick charging station

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car at quick charging station

Automakers desperately want to minimize the number of disparate charging standards, to make manufacturing of electric cars simpler.

And for European drivers, the threat of different and incompatible charging standards among France, Germany, and Italy was equally dire, potentially requiring that trips within the European Union include a trunkload of cables and plug converters.

But just two weeks ago, before the Frankfurt Motor Show, Ricky Hudi--Audi's chief executive engineer for electrics and electronics--expressed confidence that a single European standard would prevail.

"When you get the automakers together with the electric companies," he told GreenCarReports, the combined influence of the two groups will be sufficient to sway national standards bodies.

He noted, however, that current generations of electric cars would not necessarily use the resulting standard--so it could take until 2017 or 2018 before every electric car sold in Europe is fitted with the same charging socket.

Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J-1772

Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J-1772

In the U.S., by contrast, every plug-in car except the low-volume Tesla Roadster already uses the same plug, known as the J-1772 plug.

That means all electric cars can recharge at any public Level 2 charging station (except for a handful of 15-year-old stations in California still used by small numbers of electric cars built from 1996 to 2003).

The J-1772 standard is named after the number assigned to it by the Society of Automotive Engineers. It is different from the standard charging plug used in Japan and other Asian countries, but since few drivers take their cars across oceans, that's not such a problem.

The U.S. has not yet adopted a fast charging standard, though the SAE has rejected the Japanese CHAdeMO standard and plans its own combined standard- and fast-charge plug using a superset of J-1772 protocols.


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