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What Chicken-and-Egg Scenario? Japan, Inc. to Bulk Up Charging Stations

Sections: Fuel Economy, Telematics

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Charging Stations Joint Effort Press Photo

Charging stations like this one will soon be much more common in Japan thanks to a joint agreement by four of the country’s automakers to build more of them there. (Photo courtesy Nissan.)

We’ve often talked about what I call the “Chicken-and-Egg Scenario” in these pages. Now, four Japanese automakers are agreeing to work together to bulk up Japan’s EV charging infrastructure.

According to a press release from Nissan, that automaker, along with Honda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi will work to promote installation of charging stations for electric vehicles and build a charging network service that will offer more convenience to drivers in Japan.

“The move is in recognition of the critical need to swiftly develop charging infrastructure facilities to promote the use of electric-powered vehicles,” the release said.

It continued:

Assisted by subsidies provided by the Japanese government, the four automakers will bear part of the cost to install the charging facilities. They will also work together to build a convenient and accessible charging network in collaboration with companies that are already providing charging services in which each of the four automakers already have a financial stake.

At present, there are about 1,700 quick chargers and just over 3,000*2 normal chargers in Japan, which is generally recognized to be insufficient. In addition, the lack of sufficient coordination among existing charging providers can be improved to offer better charging service to customers. The government announced subsidies for installation of charging facilities totaling 100.5 billion yen as part of its economic policy for fiscal year 2013 to quickly develop the charging infrastructure and expand the use of electric-powered vehicles using alternative energy sources. Currently, each prefecture in Japan is drawing up a vision for the use of the subsidies. With this strong support, the four automakers will work together to install the chargers. Previously, each automaker assessed possible locations for charging facilities on their own. Now, they have agreed to work jointly under the common understanding that the charging infrastructure has public value and that enhancing it should be done quickly during the limited period that the subsidies are available.

The joint project will work on the following actions, according to the press release:

1. Promote installation of chargers in Japan
Studies are underway to increase the number of normal chargers by 8,000 and quick chargers by 4,000. Normal chargers could be installed in commercial facilities (e.g. large shopping malls, do-it-yourself stores and family restaurants), which are destination charging spots or en-route charging spots with longer duration stops (e.g. highway service areas and roadside stations) when a vehicle could be charged. Quick chargers are to be installed at en-route charging spots for shorter-durations stops (e.g. highway parking areas, convenience stores and gas stations).

2. Promote charger installation by temporarily bearing part of the installation and maintenance costs

3. Build a charging infrastructure network which enables customers to use their PHVs, PHEVs and EVs more conveniently
Collaboration among companies currently providing charging services in which each automaker has already invested (Japan Charge Network Company, Ltd.; Charging Network Development, LLC; and Toyota Media Service) would lead to the creation of a more convenient charging infrastructure network. One example is enabling the car’s owner to charge his or her car at any charging spot with the same card.

4. Work with government agencies and local governments
Electric-powered vehicles are the driving force of alternative energy initiatives. The government aims to expand the use of the next-generation of these vehicles and have PHVs, PHEVs and EVs achieve a ratio of 15 to 20% of new car sales in 2020. The four automakers are committed to developing a charging infrastructure for a more user-friendly infrastructure and to contribute to creating a society where electric-powered vehicle use can be maximized.

All this leads me to ask: What would it take to get a similar effort orchestrated in the United States? This lack of organization– the product of an over-reliance on hoping the free market will decide EVs are the future and commercial entities will want to set up charging stations unprovoked– has in my estimation slowed the acceptance of EVs in America.

If our government is serious about reducing fossil fuel consumption and emissions, it will work with manufacturers to set up a similar partnership with automakers here to kick-start widespread installation of EV charging stations in a model similar to Japan’s. Only when charging stations are found at a majority of businesses will EVs come into their own here in sprawling America.

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