"So there's going to be that typical battle between automakers around these particular model types [of battery electric vehicles]," Hughes added. "Then there will be the non-market battle, as well, where you try and get governments and cities to sign up with your particular standard."
The Department of Energy's EV Project, the nation's largest deployment of charging infrastructure to date, is only installing CHAdeMO systems. Infrastructure developer ECOtality Inc. is leading the project, with $114.8 million provided by DOE through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and a total budget of $230 million.
The project, now in its final months, will support the installation of 13,000 level 2 chargers for both residential and commercial use, as well as 200 CHAdeMO fast chargers. About 80 fast chargers have been installed to date.
"We're in a little bit of a spot because, frankly, if we had J1772 on all the fast chargers right now, there [would be] zero vehicles out there to use them, and even by the time our installation is done, there will be few vehicles out there to use them," said Patrick Davis, DOE's program manager for vehicle technologies.
But DOE is also sensitive to the fact that a number of major automakers are committed to the Combo standard, Davis added. DOE has discussed whether to go back and replace some of the cord sets on existing chargers or add Combo chargers to existing stations. It's unlikely, however, that the department will go back and retrofit all 200 chargers, he said.
"Certainly, going forward, [DOE officials] are likely thinking about which of these standards they want to support," said Martin of Navigant Research. "They certainly don't want to see headlines that say the DOE supports a Japanese standard over one that was developed in America."
Fast charging is not essential. BEV owners will always be able to charge using slower level 1 or level 2 chargers. Still, public fast chargers are an important tool for decreasing range anxiety and making electric vehicle ownership more convenient. If consumers feel they can't find the infrastructure they need, it will likely discourage sales and prevent electric cars from going mainstream.
"There's no doubt this isn't a positive thing for the market or for owners. It's not what anybody would plan or want if we designed it from scratch as far as a rollout," Davis said.
"It's a little bit like a standards war, not unlike VHS versus Betamax," he added. "There's likely to be a winner, and it's likely to take a few years to figure out who wins, or which standard wins, but at this point we don't see how it's avoidable."
A collision foreseen by experts
Wahid Nawabi, senior vice president and general manager of efficient energy systems at AeroVironment, Nissan's exclusive charging-station developer, said his company is standard-agnostic but sees the discrepancy as a setback for the nascent market.
"I'm very disappointed, actually," Nawabi said. "I don't think it's necessary for this to be the case."
Experts did, after all, see this coming. The CHAdeMO Association -- a partnership between Fuji Heavy Industries, Tokyo Electric Power Co., Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi -- has been working on its charger since 2005. The group commissioned the first commercial CHAdeMO charging station in 2009.
In a 2011 workshop report, the American National Standards Institute identified the incompatibility of fast-charging connector standards as a top concern for the EV industry that could result in higher costs for both manufacturers and consumers. According to the report, "Roll-out of vehicles with DC fast charge capability (e.g., Nissan Leaf with CHAdeMO connector) prior to standardization is a problem. The standard development process needs to be fast-tracked."