June 14, 2013
Bill Howard

Recharge your electric vehicle in 20 minutes starting later this year

The takes-forever-to-recharge-an-EV reason not to buy an electric vehicle may not be a problem much longer. Engineers from BMW and General Motors say an electric vehicle can be 80% recharged in about 20 minutes using a new specification developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers. It calls for a single standardized connector that accepts DC fast charging, the one that will get you back on the road quickly, as well as less speedy AC and DC charging. BMW and GM got there first with Fast Charge testing signoff, but Audi, Chrysler, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Porsche, and Volkswagen are onboard with the same SAE DC fast charge specs. At the same time, multiple suppliers of charging equipment are signed on: ABB, Aker Wade, Eaton, and IES.

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The committed are a who’s-who of the world’s EV automakers except for Japan, which has been forging a different  path on connectors. Whether the combined might of the DC fast charge signatories brings the Japanese automakers around remains to be seen. You’ve seen this before with Blu-Ray and HD DVD; eventually, a single standard emerges and the losers, like Toshiba with HD DVD, lick their wounds and move on, at which point the new technology starts to gain market share.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV –  high tech electric city car priced

First Fast Charge spec cars to market: BMW i3, Chevrolet Spark EV

The first two cars employing DC fast charge to go on sale would be the BMW i3 city car and the Chevrolet Spark EV. BMW head of sales Ian Robertson says an incredible 100,000 people worldwide have placed reservations on the i3, according to Automotive News Europe. This for a car that will likely cost at least $40,000, this from a company that sells 1,500,000 BMW passenger cars a year. In comparison, a Nisson Leaf runs about $30,000, but it doesn’t have a carbon fiber body shell or the BMW propeller emblem on the hood. The Leaf does, however, have two charging ports: one for AC, one for DC quick charge. “Reservations” doesn’t mean the 100,000 all put money down, but they at least have signed up for a test drive.

The Spark will be base-priced at $27,495. Chevrolet cites 82 miles of range on a full charge, and an efficiency rating of 119 MPG3, meaning what you pay for electricity to charge the car is equal to driving a gas-engine far that gets 119 miles per gallon. Both cars are eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500; California adds a tax credit of up to $2,500 and allows single-occupant EVs to be driving in the HOV (carpool) lanes, at least until EV sales take off so much the HOV lanes are no faster than regular lanes. That happened with hybrids last decade and HOV rights were rescinded.

“Our goal … was to ensure that DC fast charging strations be available to provide BMW i3 customers the premium fast charging experience in time for the arrival of the BMW i3,” says Cliff Fietzek, manager of connected e-mobility at BMW of North America. First deliveries are expected to be in November 2013.

“The DC Combo quick charger changes the game,” says Britta Gross, GM’s director of advanced vehicle commercialization policy. “Imagine stopping off for a cup of coffee, plugging in your vehicle at the fast charge station outside, run in for your cup of coffee, 10 minutes, 20 minutes later,  you have a fully charged vehicle.” And you won’t be as troubled should you be served inside by the world’s slowest barista: The longer you wait in line, the more full your battery gets.

As for the Japanese automakers, since 2010 they’ve been backing CHAdeMO, short for “CHArge de MOve,” or charge for moving. It’s also said to be a play on words: “O cha demo ikaga desuka” means, roughly, “Let’s have a tea while charging.”

Combo_2_Connector-collage

Next page: The connector

The new charge connector

DCFastCharge01.jpgThe new DC fast charge plug (main photo) works with a single car connector (inset photo) for both DC and AC charging. That includes compatibility with the existing, nearly universal AC charging plug called J1772. The car connector adds two pins at the bottom for the DC fast charge system; the J1772 connnector uses only the main (top) connector. EV owners can charge off AC or DC power at home as well as ultra-fast DC charging at public facilities.

It’s the fast DC charging that gets the car to 80% charge in about 20 minutes. In round terms, the i3 appears to be good for 100 miles on a full charge and the 80% refill would allow another 80 miles of driving. The Spark is at 82 miles, so 80% charge would be 66 miles.

Note that charging a battery isn’t linear. The final bit of charging, going from 80% to 100% of maximum charge, will take more than another five minutes. There are also concerns about battery longevity when quick-charged. But for owners who need nearly full power now, the DC fast charge that still beats charging overnight at home, or two-to-four hours off other DC charging systems in public facilites.

Chevrolet says home charging using a 240-volt charger (not DC fast charge) requires about seven hours. You would need to buy a DC charger separately from the Spark, as for the BMW. A 120-volt AC charging cord comes standard; GM doesn’t cite charge time but if it’s like other electric vehicles, a full charge would take somewhere between overnight and 24 hours. Fortunately, the cost of 240-volt home chargers has come down dramatically, in some cases to less than $500 — plus installation, something the EV owner may want to leave to a qualified electrician.

Both automakers will have integrated telematics and connections to smartphone or web browser apps that let you monitor the state of charge, schedule off-hours charging, start or end charging, and do a remote start that pre-heats or -cools the car while it’s still plugged into charging power.

Getting to 80% charge in 20 minutes is for a battery sized at around 20 kWh, as on the Spark EV (21 kWh), Nissan Leaf if it had the DC fast charge connector (24 kWh), or BMW i3 (about 20 kWh). For a car with a bigger battery, you’d need to at least double the charge times. The Tesla S offers a 60 or 85 kWh hour battery and has a special connector.

Next page: What if the miles-per-charge isn’t enough?

What if 80-100 miles isn’t good enough?

If you work for Google, you know they’ll have an array of DC fast chargers to go along with great food in the cafeteria, and those stock options. Real people in real jobs may not be so lucky. “Lucky” at work means access to even a lowly 120-volt outlet that lets you get back the energy expended getting to work. Range axiety will be real, along with the vehicle cost. These are not cars for weekend trips more than an hour-and-a-half from home.

There are solutions, however. Both BMW and GM have plans to get you access to real cars — sorry, combustion engine cars — that run on gasoline or diesel. GM is partnering with RelayRides. Anyone with OnStar, which means anyone who owns a GM car, can access a website that pairs up would-be car renters with individuals willing to rent their cars for the weekend. According to RelayRides founder Shelby Clark, “The most common rental is let’s-get-out-of-town-for-the-weekend.” RelayRides prescreens renters and their driving records, and maintains a reputation site where renters and owners rate each other. Think of this as Zipcar except the car owner renting out is a person, not a company. There’s even the option for the EV owner to rent out his or her car for the same period. The renter’s smartphone maps out the location of the car being rented and then remotely unlocks the car.

BMW’s program is to make cars available at dealers, particularly service loaners. The BMW i3 owner would arrange a rental, drop off the EV (and get it recharged), then swap out cars at the end of the rental period.

Now read: Aluminium-air battery can power electric vehicles for 1,000 miles, will come to production cars in 2017

Read more from BMW and GM.