When asked at a recent electric vehicle conference why they decided to pursue a separate standard instead of adopting the existing CHAdeMO system, American and European automakers pointed to the collaborative nature of the SAE Combo and its technical advantages.
"It isn't as if there weren't benefits at the time for an early entry market for CHAdeMO to be there, but we are working in an open process where all global automakers are involved," said Jeanette Clute, manager of global electrification infrastructure strategy at Ford Motor Co.
Waldemar Schweigert, who leads in electric drive technologies at Volkswagen, added that the Combo standard will be able to deliver charge at 86 kilowatts, versus 50 kW for CHAdeMO, and recharge a battery in a shorter period of time than its competitor.
Charging stations with both standards?
While the SAE charger won't be commercially available for months, with Ford, Volkswagen, GM and BMW committed to it, the Combo standard could one day make CHAdeMO obsolete.
If one standard does prevail, it could streamline resources and bolster the BEV market. But it will have been an expensive diversion. CHAdeMO charging stations cost between $15,000 and $25,000 plus installation costs, which can bring the total up to $150,000.
"In that sense, this is a little bit different from the VHS versus Betamax story, because everyone could just throw away their Betamax when VHS won," said Hughes. "Here, you're going to have the equivalent to gas stations all over the place that cost [tens of thousands] to put into the ground, and a lot of them are probably going to be using obsolete technology. What do you do about that? It's going to be an expensive problem."
But some don't see it as much of a problem at all.
Ultimately, DC quick charging stations could end up like gas stations in the sense that they offer both CHAdeMO and Combo chargers, just like a gas station offers both a gasoline and diesel.
"The crest of the wave has already passed where people are investing in CHAdeMO, so pretty much everything from this point on large scale in Europe and, I think, in the U.S. is going to be dual standard or have the ability to upgrade to dual standard," said Cal Lankton, director of electric vehicle charging infrastructure at ABB Inc., which offers electric vehicle charging equipment.
Because the majority of the cost is embedded in the installation process -- which includes permitting, trenching concrete, upgrading transformers and putting in hardware -- it does not cost twice as much to offer both CHAdeMO and Combo systems, Lankton said. Instead, it's a matter of adding the cost of the charger itself.
Big money rides on the outcome
At an additional $25,000 a pop that, could still add up to a multimillion-dollar difference. But developers are, indeed, moving forward with dual stations. The NRG Energy subsidiary eVgo, for instance, plans to offer both types of chargers at its "Freedom Stations" once the SAE Combo passes all safety certifications.
"We believe it's a financially viable sustainable business market," said Arun Banskota, president of NRG Energy's electric vehicle services.
The CHAdeMO organization itself acknowledges that dual charging stations are the best route. "Many charger manufactures will be coming out this year with this dual charger and we are pleased to see that this will help service the full market," Kiho Ohga, a representative of the CHAdeMO Association, wrote in an email. "Whether it makes business sense to adopt both versus one is not a difficult decision to make by the investor."
Unfortunately, standards issues for electric vehicles don't end with fast charging. There are interoperability issues between charger payment systems, which prevent drivers from using all of the available infrastructure. There are also discrepancies emerging in the wireless-charging space.