TOKYO -- Japan's automakers aim to cement their lead in electric vehicles by making Japanese recharging technology the global standard and bringing it to the United States.
A coalition of manufacturers, including Nissan and Toyota, is teaming with Japan's biggest electric company and the government here to make it happen.
They aim to corner the market on one of the technologies that will be key to the eventual acceptance of electric-powered cars: the high-speed charging points that will act like gasoline stations of the future and enable drivers to recharge and keep driving after their batteries run low.
“What we need to do is make this protocol a standard outside Japan,” said Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the main utility backing the venture. The coalition is called CHAdeMo and has 158 partner companies.
The idea is to form common charging “language” for fast-charging electric cars from various brands. Doing so would cut development costs and encourage the use of electric vehicles, proponents say.
Tokyo Electric Power developed the protocol with Fuji Heavy Industries, maker of the Subaru brand, four years ago, and that has become the standard inside Japan.
Nissan, Toyota, Fuji Heavy and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., all of which have either launched electric cars or plan to do so soon, use the same fast-charging technology and are part of the group.
Issues outside Japan
The problem comes outside Japan, where automakers have lagged behind in developing electric vehicles and haven't devised a commonly accepted technology.
“There is no competing standard that is currently available,” says Hiroyuki Aoki, senior manager of international relations at Tokyo Electric Power.
That gives Japan an opening to take the lead. There are already 1,000 electric vehicles of various brands on Japanese roads and 150 quick-charging stations nationwide.
U.S. drivers will get their first taste of the technology late this year with the arrival of the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. Nissan plans to use CHAdeMo as its fast-charging technology in the United States as it rolls out the Leaf there, Nissan spokesman Tristan Agustin said.
Utilities on board
U.S. companies already have signed up. They include charger manufacturers Aker Wade and AeroVironment, as well as utilities Pacific Gas & Electric in California, Portland General Electric in Oregon, NRG Energy in Texas and Southern California Edison.
Other companies taking part: Robert Bosch, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Korea Electric Power.
The CHAdeMo coalition plans to lobby the Society of Automotive Engineers to adopt the standard.
The coalition is focusing on the quick-charging stations that act as a safety net, expanding the rather limited single-charge range of today's electric vehicles.
The charging points have machines resembling gasoline pumps with hefty electric cords that plug into the vehicles. They deliver 50 kilowatts of direct current electricity at between 150 and 200 amps. This allows charging in a matter of minutes, as opposed to several hours when done through a home outlet.
Creating an infrastructure of high-speed charging stations is seen as alleviating the anxiety drivers might have of being stranded if their batteries go dry. Studies done by Tokyo Electric Power, which currently runs a fleet of 150 electric vehicles, show that when a network of charging stations is in place, people drive farther even if they don't recharge.
“Just the fact that they exist has a placebo effect,” Aoki said. “It is a safety net that encourages electric-vehicle use.”