Blog Post

Big Three Set (Some) Open Standards for Hybrids, Electric Cars

Open standards for the new networked vehicle may come sooner than we thought. The U.S. Council for Automotive Research, an alliance of Detroit’s Big Three, has just issued new standards for high-voltage wiring and connectors in hybrid and electric vehicles — a move that could eventually help cut production costs for cleaner cars.

Previously, the automakers had only set standards for wiring capacities of up to 20V — which meant each company was working with unique designs and specifications (each requiring costly testing and limiting economies of scale for components suppliers) for the higher-voltage systems used in alternative fuel cars. The updated standards set specifications for systems operating at up to 600V. (Hat tip AutoblogGreen.)

As we noted toward the end of last year, car makers have been ramping up efforts to establish standards for how vehicles are charged by the power grid, what the plug interface will look like and which hardware should be used to make the connection. As vehicles take on more IT and computing intelligence — becoming networked devices, or Car 2.0 — it makes sense for car companies to move toward the kind of industry-wide standards that helped drive innovation in IT.

While USCAR said in its release that industry-wide standards for electrical wiring and connector specifications will be “front and center” as automakers focus more attention on vehicle electrification and seek to streamline parts fulfillment, the industry has only begun to delve into standards for networked plug-in vehicles. As panelists at our Green:Net conference said last week, standards can help make charging stations interoperable, allow customers of one company to roam onto another’s grid and help utilities make charging cheap and efficient. Sven Thesen of Better Place painted the challenge this way: “Standards work is not complex; it’s tedious and has to be done. The big picture is the technology is there; we don’t need to reinvent, we just need to put it in a different order.”