Volvo is one of the leaders among major manufacturers at getting plug-in cars into the hands of customers. Others are talking about making plug-ins available in a year or so, but Volvo has already done it with its XC90 T8. That car combines a supercharged and turbocharged gasoline engine with an electric motor to crank out over 400 horsepower.
Efficiency and performance in one package is proving to have a powerful allure for shoppers. Initially, Volvo believed only 5% of its customers would opt for the plug-in hybrid powertrain, but the model has been a runaway sales success. Today, 20% of all XC90 buyers are demanding the PHEV.
That has led Volvo to consider where EV sales will be in a few years. It thinks the lack of uniform charging standards is a potential road block to higher sales of electric vehicles. Imagine if each manufacturer of conventional cars made it so the filler pipe for the gas tank would only accept a nozzle with a certain shape? Ford owners would have to go to a Ford authorized gas station or carry a range of adapters around in the trunk. The whole idea is ludicrous.
Volvo is on to something here. We are talking about rising sea levels, desertification, and the possibility of making the planet unfit for human habitation. There isn’t time for arguing about the shape of a plug. This is a little more important than Betamax vs VHS or 8 track vs cassette.
Volvo R&D chief Peter Mertens says that to insure customers fully embrace the idea of electric cars, a simple, standardized, fast, and global charging infrastructure is needed. “We see that a shift towards fully electric cars is already underway, as battery technology improves, costs fall and charging infrastructure is put in place,” he says. “But while we are ready from a technology perspective, the charging infrastructure is not quite there yet. To really make range anxiety a thing of the past, a globally standardized charging system is sorely needed.”
Mertens is quite correct. In order to move toward that goal, Volvo has decided to throw its support behind the Charging Interface Initiative, a consortium of stakeholders that was founded to establish the Combined Charging System (CCS) as the standard for charging electric vehicles. According to Electric Cars Report, CSS offers both regular and fast-charging capabilities, That will make electric car ownership increasingly practical and convenient – especially in urban environments.
CSS combines single phase with rapid three phase charging. It is capable of charging at up to 43 kilowatts on AC power and up to 200 kilowatts on DC. In the future, it could support charging at rates up to 350 kilowatts. Its biggest advantage is that it can do all that in a single system. The Charging Interface Initiative is currently in the process of drawing up standards for use by car makers around the globe.
“We are very happy to support and be involved in the setting of standards for electric vehicle charging systems. The lack of such a standard is one of the main obstacles for growing electric vehicles’ share of the market,” said Dr Mertens.’
Standards are vital to commerce. They are what make it possible for an entire country to use one form of household electricity, for the trains in France be able to run on the tracks in Italy. and for airplanes to share one set of protocols that promote safety and efficiency in the air. Standards are not about ideology. They are about promoting commerce while keeping customers safe.
There are numerous charging standards in use around the world today. EV drives in Europe can encounter a half dozen of more in just a 500 mile journey. In the US, the main competitors are CSS and CHAdeMO. Of course, Tesla has its own proprietary system, which can interface with a CHAdeMO charger using an available adapter.
Many private charging networks are fully committed to one standard or the other. Some offer chargers that support both. But moving forward, the Volvo plan makes the most sense. Our charging network needs to be harmonized to promote the acceptance of electric motoring and avoid wasting money on competing charging standards. Go, Volvo!