New Electric-Car Charging Standard

With more and more automakers developing electric cars, the need for a universal charging plug is on the rise. In response to this need, BMW, Audi, Ford, Daimler, General Motors, Volkswagen and Porsche have come to an agreement on a common vehicle/inlet charging connector, a development that could speed up the creation of electric-car-charging infrastructure and reduce costs.

Electric vehicle plugs do more than simply transport electricity; they also facilitate two-way communication between the vehicle and the charger. The seven automakers’ agreed-upon fast-charging system will allow electric cars like BMW’s 1 Series-based ActiveE to charge up at the same stations as the Ford Focus Electric, enabling manufacturers of charging stations to streamline their designs. The harmonized system will be compatible with the American standard J1772 connector, along with the HomePlug GreenPHY communication protocol for use with future smart-grid applications.

"Electric cars are only going to grow in popularity, so it’s important for automakers to come together now to make things easier for the consumer," said Warren Waugh, co-founder of the Lyon-Waugh Auto Group, which includes BMW of Peabody, Porsche of Nashua and Audi of Nashua. "Much like the gas pump nozzle we’ve all become accustomed to, we need an electric car plug that will work for any and all electric vehicles. That makes life easier for car buyers and for businesses looking to add charge stations to their parking lots."

BMW has already partnered with Coulomb Technologies, the company behind the nationwide ChargePoint Network, to install more than 150 charging stations in and around Boston. With standardized J1772 plugs, those stations can charge a range of vehicles, which means Boston’s electric-car drivers can travel freely around the city without contributing to noise or air pollution.

Coulomb’s new chargers will be a boon for those looking to drive a BMW ActiveE when it debuts at select BMW dealerships this December. Only available through a two-year lease, the BMW ActiveE features a powerful electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack that are projected to provide a range of approximately 100 miles. While those numbers are comparable to other electric vehicles on sale, the BMW separates itself from the competition with its unique rear-wheel-drive layout, which means a more engaging driving experience.

BMW isn’t the only German automaker working on electric vehicles. Porsche is planning limited production of a Porsche 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid supercar in 2013, and the automaker revealed details regarding three all-electric Porsche Boxster E prototypes earlier this year. Meanwhile, Audi has pulled back the curtain on a number of electric and plug-in hybrid luxury sports car concepts, the latest being the Audi e-tron Spyder, a rakish plug-in diesel hybrid with 739 pound-feet of torque.

"It won’t be long until plug-in vehicles are the norm rather than the exception," said Marshal Cabot, general manager of BMW of Peabody. "Having a charging infrastructure already developed and in place will greatly increase EV adoption by making it easier for those used to being tied to a fuel pump."