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New Electric Car Charging Standard Isolates Japanese Makers

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Japanese automakers were left out in the cold Monday after SAE International, which sets technical and engineering standards for the automotive and aerospace industries worldwide, decided to support the single plug Combo Coupler standard for plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles. Japanese manufacturers, including Nissan Motor (OTC: NSANY) had supported the two-plug, CHAdeMO standard, which is already installed in Nissan LEAF electric cars.

The Combo Coupler standard is supported by General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Volkswagen (OTC: VLKAY). It uses a single plug for fast charging at a charging station and for slower, overnight charging at home. The two-plug CHAdeMO standard supported by Japanese car makers used one plug for rapid charging and another for overnight charging.

The development of the electric car and plug-in hybrids requires a single standard plug for charging stations. The SAE International press release stated, “This new standard reflects the many hours that top industry experts from around the world worked to achieve the best charging solution – a solution that helps vehicle electrification technology move forward.” Gery Kissel, Engineering Specialist, Global Battery Systems, General Motors and SAE J1772™ Task Force Chairman said. “We now can offer users of this technology various charging options in one combined design.”

Japanese reports complained that the decision to adopt the Combo Coupler standard has isolated the Japanese auto industry. Unless China, the world's largest automobile market, decides to go with Japan's CHAdeMO plug, which is highly unlikely given the highly charged territorial dispute between the two countries, Japanese car makers have no choice but to recognize SAE International's decision to use the Combo Coupler standard globally. While the Japanese home market could support the CHAdeMO standard on its own, it would mean that used Japanese electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles could not be exported, greatly reducing their resale value.

A report in Asahi Shinbun, a major Japanese daily newspaper, stated that General Motors and Volkswagen will offer vehicles incorporating the new Combo Coupler plug as early as 2013. There was no word on what Japanese automakers will do, although it is worth noting that Toyota (NYSE: TM) uses a single plug for its Prius plug-in hybrid vehicles sold in North America.

The agreement on a standard plug for charging stations should allow the more rapid diffusion of charging stations and electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. In North America, charging stations are made by Eaton (NYSE: ETN), General Electric (NYSE: GE) and Siemens (NYSE: SI). This should also be good news for Car Charging Group, Inc. (OTC: CCGI), which provides turnkey car charging stations to property owners and a charging station search service to drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

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