4 automakers collaborate to expand recharging network in Japan

A public recharging station in Nagoya

Motorists today think nothing of driving from Malaysia to England or anywhere around the world because they know that wherever they travel through, there is likely to be some place to refuel their vehicle. The network of refuelling stations, small and big, and the widespread availability of petrol and diesel is the product of more than 100 years of development, hence the confidence that you can travel long distances in a car.

With electric vehicles (EVs) that do not use petrol or diesel, electrical energy is needed as the ‘fuel’ to power the EV. This energy is taken on through charging stations that can be installed at home or at public sites.

As EVs have only started to be widely sold since the mid-2000s, the recharging network in most countries is still limited. This also limits the acceptance of EVs since consumers worry about travelling long distances. As a transitional solution, BMW offers owners of its new i3 electric car the option of renting one of its conventional models if they want to go on a long trip.

In the more advanced countries, recharging stations are plentiful but even with around 1,700 quick chargers and over 3,000 normal chargers in Japan, the number is still considered insufficient. For this reason, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi Motors will jointly promote the installation of chargers and collaborate on build a charging network service that offers more convenience to motorists using EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHVs) 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. 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.

Owners can install recharging stations at their homes which charge overnight and provide a full battery the next morning

The government’s subsidies for installation of charging facilities will total 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. The aim is to have at least 4,000 quick chargers and 8,000 normal chargers. This will be important if the target of having PHVs and EVs achieve a ratio of 15 to 20% of new car sales in 2020 is achieved.

Currently, each prefecture in Japan is drawing up a vision for the use of the subsidies. With this strong support, the 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.

There are three charging methods for electric-powered vehicles: basic charging, where a car is charged at private homes or condominiums; destination charging, where a car is charged at locations such as shopping malls, do-it-yourself (DIY) stores and family restaurants for the return trip home; and en-route charging at locations including expressway roadside service areas, roadside stations, petrol stations, and convenience stores. In both destination and en-route charging, normal charging is suitable for longer-duration stops, while quick charging is appropriate for shorter stops.

In terms of utility, PHVs and PHEVs would benefit from an expanded charging network because it would maximize these vehicles’ EV driving performance and combined fuel economy. EVs, which provide an emissions-free, clean driving experience, could harness a larger charging network to extend their range during longer trips.

EV models from the four automakers: (top row) Honda Fit EV, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan LEAF; (above) Toyota RAV4-EV

[Chips Yap]