Tesla has announced that it will fully support China’s charging standards, modifying its vehicles to ensure that they are compatible. This is surely a wise and necessary policy, as concerns about charging infrastructure are widely considered to be the main reason that EV sales in the world’s largest auto market have been slow to take off.
There’s just one little snag: China doesn’t have any uniform charging standards, and some experts are not optimistic that they will be established any time soon.
China released the “recommended” GB standard for AC charging in 2011, but as a Tesla spokesperson put it, the standard “lacks definition of some important parameters, resulting in the incompatibility of EV products with different brands and charging facilities in different cities [and] it is still a voluntary standard, not mandatory.”
The central government is pushing automakers to produce EVs and, in the absence of a national standard, some localities have designed their own systems that are compatible with locally-produced EVs only.
One wealthy businessman, frustrated that he couldn’t drive his Tesla Model S from Guangdong to Beijing, bought 20 Level 2 charging stations from Tesla and built his own charging network, which he says is also open to other Tesla owners.
When China does settle on an AC charging standard, “Model S in China will be compatible with the new GB AC standard,” said Tesla. Will that mean that some or all of the charging stations installed up to that point will then need to be replaced?
David Reeck, formerly Manager of Electrification Strategy for GM China, is one of the pessimists, especially regarding DC standards. He points out that the DC standard that Chinese authorities are promoting lacks safety features that the SAE and CHAdeMO standards include, and that the male and female ends of the connector are reversed.
China did not collaborate on the SAE combo standard that has been adopted by US and European automakers. A group called the Charging Interface Initiative Asia, which includes BMW, VW, Daimler, Ford and GM, has been encouraging China to adopt a similar standard. Reeck says the group plans to demonstrate a combined Chinese GB standard plug in 2015, but he doesn’t expect China to have a DC standard formalized until 2016.