New 'combo charger' hits Oregon, foreshadows EV power showdown

Michael Hicks, via Wikimedia Commons

The combo charger, backed by the Society of Automotive Engineers, builds upon the J1772 charger.

Oregon’s electric vehicle charging network could get a new quick charger that supports several big-name automakers’ EVs.

As such, the addition of the “combo charger” that would allow for faster EV powering in Oregon could help set the stage for a showdown between the two or three most prevalent fast-charging standards.

Oregon’s electric vehicle advocates are negotiating with auto industry officials to provide the first Society of Automotive Engineers-backed combo quick charger, which would be installed at the Electric Avenue charging station showcase on Portland State University’s campus.

The combo plug works on the just-released Chevrolet Spark EV and the BMW i3, which will hit the market later this year.

George Beard, of PSU’s office of Research and Strategic Partnerships, expects the SAE combo plug to appear on Electric Avenue by the end of the year.

That the SAE quick charger will appear in Oregon at all could signify the beginning of a standards issue that nearly everyone involved with the issue equates to a “VHS versus Betamax” battle.

Fast chargers can dramatically improve EVs’ charging time to 30 minutes or less, as opposed to hours for lower-capacity charging units.

And while it’s early in the game, most of quick chargers in the U.S. are based on the Japanese standard called CHAdeMO, which is supported by Nissan and Mitsubishi.

About two dozen CHAdeMO chargers are operating in Oregon.

However, such manufacturers as Ford, General Motors, BMW and Volkswagen favor the SAE-backed J1772 quick charger.

“We’re looking at a potential schism, a Sophie’s Choice between the competing standards,” said Beard. “Can public entities in Oregon afford to support multiple standards at a time of constricted budgets?”

Beard and Jeff Allen, director of the state’s EV industry cluster Drive Oregon, believe the issue will start coming to a head as more electric Fords and Chevys, as well as VWs and BMWs, make their way to Oregon’s roads.

“Of course we want to be the first” state in the region to get an SAE quick charger, said Allen. “We’d be at the epicenter ... but we also want people to be able to buy whatever kind of electric car they want to buy and use it here. And, we want the companies to sell all their electric vehicles here.”

As it becomes obvious which type of quick charger users need or prefer, there’s a third entrant as well: Tesla has its own “supercharger” made for its high-end EVs.

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