Mark Perry (left) next to the Nissan LEAF battery mock up
Nissan shocked everybody a bit earlier this week when they announced they had developed a DC fast charging station that had the capability of getting a Nissan LEAF’s 24 kWh battery pack from zero to 80% full in under a half hour. It wasn’t so much the fast charging capability — also known as Level 3 charging — that shocked. We’ve all known Level 3 charging was coming. No, it was the price of their charging station.
At about $17,000, it represented an astounding departure from the $60,000 to $150,000 prices that have been quoted for the better part of a year and a half for a fast charging station. I had a chance to ask Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning and strategy for North America, about just how Nissan had pulled it off and what kinds of plans Nissan has for bringing their Level 3 charging station to the U.S.
Nick Chambers: There’s a press release that came across recently that you guys have developed your own DC fast charger in house and you’re installing it in 200 dealerships in Japan. Do you have plans to put that in the US?
Mark Perry: We’re looking at even additional cost reduction below the $17,000 price per charge station we’ve come up with in Japan. Our question right now is that it meets the equivalent of UL listing in Japan right now, so for us to develop it for application here in the United States we’d have to do a little bit more development, get it through UL certification and then deploy it.
NC: But are you going to use the CHAdeMO standard that has been developed in Japan in the US? I mean, you guys are kind of up against the SAE because they’re dragging their heels on the level 3 standard.
MP: Again, the DOE project is going to deploy 250-plus of these DC fast chargers, so they’re going to be out there. So the manufacturers are lining up behind that standard and those stations that are being deployed will be UL certified so they’re safe. We hope the SAE moves along towards that kind of standard. It’s just a process that needs to be gone through.
NC: Right, it almost seems the decision is kind for going to be made for them by the time they actually get there. If you’ve got several hundred of these charging stations — or even a thousand of them by the time the make up their mind — then, you know, there’s not much they can do.
MP: Maybe so, but we want everybody involved in the process to be comfortable.
NC: The other question I had is, if you went back a year and did an internet search on articles that came up a year ago, everybody would say these DC fast chargers are going to be 60-100,000 bucks. And now you guys come out with this one that — in Japan — is selling for $17,000, which is cheaper than even some of the level 2 chargers. I’m just wondering, you know, how? How does that happen? I don’t understand, you guys have this incredibly cheap battery pack and you have this incredibly cheap fast charger. And I’m just wondering, “What is going on over at Nissan”? You’re beating all these predictions by miles.
MP: We have a very strong team of cost engineers who went back and basically took apart the DC fast charger and asked “How can we find ways to do this less expensively and faster?” And before, the market was for almost hand built charging stations. You know, it’s like a custom built car; it costs a lot of money. All of a sudden you start talking about scale, you start talking about manufacturing efficiencies, and you go through, from a cost engineering standpoint and say “Okay, why are you doing it this way if you can do it that way?” and just work it through and you come up with the cost reduction that we have. And we’re not done.
NC: If you were a municipality now, and you’re thinking about investing to install these chargers, and now you see that Nissan has a $17,000 one, you are then going to be selling that — I mean you make that and sell it to any willing bidder?
MP: Once we have it UL certified, yeah that’s our intention. From a strategic standpoint, we want to help that market develop also, and in the long term, we hope that our charger brings competition, brings scale, and drives costs low so we can see large deployment. Again, DC fast charging we think is a really good way for electric vehicles to work. Especially, we always get the “well what about the garage orphans?” question — AKA apartment dwellers, condo guys — well what about those guys? A DC fast charge system allows them to join in. For instance, in Seattle — belltown — it’s like condo city, so you don’t need every building, just have a centralized location.
At this point, Brad Berman of HybridCars.com joined conversation and asked: You’re not concerned about battery degradation with fast charging?
MP: There is a difference, the gradual capacity loss is about 10% more. So remember I said after 10 years we’d be 70-80%. If you do a lot of DC fast charging you’re down at the 70% range. Again, our simulations are fast charging 2 or 3 times a day, I mean we’re really pushing it to see what happens, and we’re getting that kind of difference.
Disclaimer: The author’s travel and lodging expenses were paid for by Nissan.