TOKYO -- With a steady flow of battery-powered vehicles arriving in showrooms, and charging infrastructure plans being announced almost daily, it would seem that the initial beachhead for electric vehicles is well-established.
Yet the prospects for long-distance travel by electricity continue to be limited. Until a mechanism for replenishing a car's batteries, either by charging them quickly or swapping them altogether, is in place, the appeal of electrics will be constrained. Even with cars for sale that offer 300-mile batteries, a cross-country vacation in a purely electric car remains impractical.
Several fast-charging solutions -- typically, systems that can restore a battery to 80 percent of its capacity in 30 minutes or less -- are already available, but the connectors and software used in these direct-current chargers are largely incompatible.
For drivers, this means that not only must they locate a high-speed charger when they travel, but it has to be a specific type of charger -- a factor that could hurt already struggling EV sales.
That incompatibility appears to be growing. In
The announcement angered companies here that have backed a rival technology. For several years, Nissan, Mitsubishi and many charger-makers have developed a technology called CHAdeMO, which is installed in at least 1,500 fast chargers globally. Any new standard, these companies say, is unnecessary and ultimately destructive.
"CHAdeMO is already a very proven technology," said Hideaki Watanabe, vice president in the Zero Emission business group at Nissan. "I don't know why we need another standard."
Adding to the confusion, Chinese electrical vehicle makers are creating their own fast chargers to be used in their home market. Tesla, the Palo Alto-based maker of electric cars, has developed its own chargers as well.
The differences between standards are not insignificant. Cars like the Nissan Leaf have individual sockets for the different levels of charging.
The U.S.-German technology, which is based on the SAE J1772 standard used in slower AC chargers, would allow carmakers to install only one combined socket on the car.
"We think that it is a convenience factor," said Kevin M. Kelly, a spokesman for General Motors, who said the new fast chargers would not be ready until at least next year, when a Chevrolet Spark EV is to go on sale.
Whatever the merits, the dueling standards are likely to create headaches for governments and companies that have already installed CHAdeMO fast chargers.
"We already picked a winner; we picked CHAdeMO," said George Beard, who helped install an array of chargers, including two fast chargers, on Electric Avenue, a showcase street in Portland, Ore. "If I was a consumer and I had Type A and couldn't use Type B, I'd be furious."
With no group willing to concede, all eyes are on an otherwise obscure technical committee of the International Electrotechnical Commission. The committee is reviewing the standards and in the coming months is expected to approve one or more of the fast charger standards.
Tesla, which just introduced its Model S sedan, may well have the biggest stake in the matter. Yet it is also going its own way, developing a fast-charge system that it says can provide enough electricity in 30 minutes to power a car for 150 to 160 miles.
All Tesla Model S cars with the 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack come equipped to use the Supercharger, which will be installed along major routes, according to Christina Ra, a spokeswoman for the company. Tesla Superchargers will initially be compatible only with Model S vehicles, although that may change, she said.