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Summary:

Five of Japan’s heavyweights in the auto and power industries — Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors, Fuji Heavy Industries and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the country’s largest utility — have joined forces to try and speed the adoption of a standard quick-charging system for electric vehicles. […]

Five of Japan’s heavyweights in the auto and power industries — Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors, Fuji Heavy Industries and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the country’s largest utility — have joined forces to try and speed the adoption of a standard quick-charging system for electric vehicles.

Each of these companies has some skin in the electric car game, and the firms announced a partnership this morning dubbed the CHAdeMO Association. As explained in today’s release, CHAdeMO (an abbreviation of “charge for moving,” as well as a pun translated to, “Let’s have a tea while charging”) is also the trade name for the quick-charging system that the group is proposing as a global industry standard.

The Department of Energy says a charger (classified as Level 1, 2 or 3 based on how much power it can provide) is deemed “fast” if it can “charge an average electric vehicle battery pack in 30 minutes or less.” Nissan’s Mark Perry has said that fast charging is critically important mainly for what the company calls “destination” and “pathway” charging — at shopping centers and along major roads, for example, for middle-to-long distance trips. At Plug-in 2009, he commented, “Pathway charging we think is all about fast charge.” But home and workplace charge points — installations that Nissan considers “a top priority” — don’t necessarily require quick charging, since cars will likely be connected for several hours at these locations.

According to today’s release, as many as 158 “business entities and government bodies,” including 20 companies from outside of Japan, are expected to join the CHAdeMO Association. Automakers, utilities, charger manufacturers, charging service providers and other groups (reportedly including Pacific Gas & Electric, Enel, Endesa, and PSA Peugeot Citroen) are slated to join.

The four automakers announced this morning and TEPCO form the decision-making executive board of the group (see organization chart at left), which plans to deploy the CHAdeMO charging system in Japan and in international markets where models like the Nissan LEAF are slated to roll out in coming months. The CHAdeMO Association also plans to lobby standards groups including the Society of Automotive Engineers and the International Transport Forum to incorporate its system, according to Reuters.

As Green Car Congress has explained, TEPCO has developed a scheme that calls for standardization of only the communication protocol and the connector, while the main circuits and components will vary for each charger maker. These are critical areas for cooperation, as noted in the report, “IT and Networking Issues for the Electric Vehicle Market,” from GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

“Keeping track of the ability of these vehicles and the grid to transfer energy will require transmitting data over old and new communications pathways using a series of developing and yet-to-be-written standards…EV charging transactions will, for the first time, bring together platforms including vehicle operating systems and power management systems, utility billing systems, grid performance data, charging equipment applications, fixed and wireless communications networks, and web services.”

Strong standards are about more than ensuring basic service (i.e. being able to plug in any vehicle at any charging station). They can also help cut costs and when open, they can foster innovation — as demonstrated in the IT industry. As Reuters writes, Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shig told reporters this morning, “We will compete when it comes to vehicle performance, but we should cooperate on areas such as infrastructure.”

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