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Automakers aim to set global standard for electric-car charging

By Yasuaki Kobayashi and Kohei Nakashima, The Yomiuri Shimbun –

TOKYO — Major automakers are expected to cooperate to establish a global standard for a fast-charging system for electric vehicles, apparently with an eye on China’s electric-vehicle market.

Japan is promoting the CHAdeMo battery-charging system for its electric vehicles, or EVs, while Europe and the United States favor the “Combo” fast-charging system.

But the two sides have recently been making moves to standardize the two systems.

“There’s really no conflict between the CHAdeMo and Combo systems. We just have to work together to standardize the charging systems,” Hideaki Watanabe, corporate vice president of Nissan Motor Co., said last week. Nissan is a main promoter of the CHAdeMo system.

Rudolf Krebs, Volkswagen AG’s group chief officer for electric traction, said last week that the two sides need to make concessions. Krebs said it would be ideal if the two charging methods were made compatible in the next few years so they could be merged into a global standard in the next five years.

Volkswagen, a major promoter of the Combo system, plans to put EVs on the market around the world from 2013 by converting some of its Golf and other popular models.

While Volkswagen will use the Combo system as the charging system for its EVs, the company will modify relevant units to accommodate the CHAdeMo system for the Japanese market.

The difference in the charging systems has an impact on EV specifications. An EV can cover about 200 kilometers on a single charge.

To make EVs more popular, observers say it is necessary to install as many charging stations as gasoline stations. But overseas firms thinking about installing charging stations in Japan believe it would be a waste of money to invest in the CHAdeMo system if the Combo system becomes the global standard.

Japanese and Western automakers are both aware that a prolonged battle over which charging system to adopt likely will slow installation of charging stations, thereby adversely affecting EV sales.

China, the world’s largest vehicle market, has said it would adopt its own EV charging system.

The country is promoting EVs and other eco-friendly next-generation vehicles to reduce petroleum consumption. It aims to sell 5 million eco-friendly vehicles, including plug-in hybrid cars, by 2020.

Annual sales of new vehicles have plunged to less than 5 million in Japan, so accommodating Chinese demands will determine Japanese automakers’ relative strengths in the auto market.

If China presses ahead with its own charging system, Japanese and Western automakers will have to produce EVs that accommodate the Chinese system. This probably would delay their effort to get a foothold in the Chinese market.

But if Japanese and Western automakers join in establishing a global standard in the future, they could persuade China to abandon its efforts to develop its own charging system.

European and U.S. firms already have pressed senior officials of the Chinese government not to develop its own system but to adopt a global system, according to Krebs.

For the Japanese side, the CHAdeMo Association, mainly comprising Japanese automakers producing EVs, said it has had many discussions with Chinese officials on making the charging systems compatible. But China is refusing to budge, according to the association.

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