March 15, 2010

Japan Companies Team Up For Standard On Electric Cars

On Monday, Japanese auto giants and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) joined forces to set up a common system to recharge electric cars, with the hopes to create a global standard.

The growth of the electric vehicle sector has brought questions over whether zero-emission cars or the networks of recharging stations should come first.

Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and Fuji Heavy Industries have linked up with TEPCO to organize "CHAdeMO."

The name comes from the words "Charge" and "Move" and a pun on the popular Japanese phrase.

There are 158 companies and government bodies that are members, including 20 foreign firms.

TEPCO chariman Tsunehisa Katsumata said standardizing charging infrastructure is vital to making electric cars popular.

"We need to make this protocol a standard protocol outside of Japan," he told a gathering in a Tokyo hotel.

Zero-emission cars are gaining traction across the world as concern has grown over pollution from exhaust pipes of current petrol cars and the emissions they produce.

Mitsubishi Motors unveiled the i-MiEV last year and Nissan plans to launch the world's first mass market electric vehicle, the Leaf, later on this year.

Toyota promised to launch its own version by 2012.  It already began leasing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle last year, one year earlier than what the company hoped.

Electric cars still have hurdles, like costly batteries and lack of conveniently-located recharging points, to cross.

Standardization would have all makers agree on the kind of outlet and voltage to use, which currently differ among firms.

"It's like establishing a common operation manual or a code that allows the charging machine to work across a broad range of electric vehicles," said Takafumi Anegawa, electric vehicle manager at TEPCO.

The Japanese government has put $13.7 million in the budget for fiscal 2010 starting in April to help develop a recharging grid.

Some officials say that it is a hurdle in itself to create a global standard.

"It will be a big and difficult challenge for the entire world to reach the same method" in charging EVs, Toyota managing officer Koei Saga said. "In the end, we may just need to adhere to the methods in each country."