See the end of this post for a short technical explanation of the different plug types
Around 2 years ago, I was in a room full of “parking professionals” (yes that’s a thing) and the ex-Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, talking about all things parking. Like that annoying kid in class I asked why the City of Melbourne wasn’t doing more to support the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure in the new apartment buildings springing up all over the city. His response was something along the lines of, “We’ll look at supporting this if you people can get your act together on plug standards”.
That dismissive remark at the time represents the number one question the EV industry gets every day about charging: What’s with the plugs?
Why is this important?
Before we dive into a brief history we need to outline the importance of plug standards:
A consistent standard helps public charging providers install charging stations with confidence, knowing that they won’t need to replace them down the line
It helps fleets install charging stations for long-term use
It gives consumers confidence to buy vehicles knowing that they’ll be compatible with public charging infrastructure
It allows for a coordinated approach and simple message when speaking to government
The king that was: Type 1
The push for electric vehicles in Australia started around 7 years ago. Back in those days, the only models available were the Mitsubishi i-Miev (2012) and Nissan Leaf (2012), followed soon after by the Porsche Cayenne PHEV (2014) and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (2014).
At that time the dominant vehicle was the Nissan Leaf, and Chargepoint was the dominant public charging infrastructure provider. Being from Japan, Nissan naturally chose the J1772 or Type 1 standard, which was common in their home country. Likewise, Chargepoint Australia, operating under licence from the US, also used the Type 1 standard. Type 1 was, and continues to be, the dominant standard in the US.
On the DC front, CHAdeMO was the common standard, again because of the dominance of Japanese EVs.
In what was essentially “follow the leader”, Porsche introduced the Cayenne and Panamera PHEVs with the Type 1 plug as well, despite the European carmaker using Type 2 as standard in their home markets.
The challenger: Type 2
It was in this context that Tesla formally entered the Australian market with the Type 2 plug. While Tesla did sell the Roadster here, it wasn’t until the Model S that the brand gained widespread recognition.
Tesla in the US has their own proprietary standard, but have chosen to adopt international standards in other markets. When faced with the decision of what to bring into Australia, it chose the European standard: Type 2.
Their reasons were pretty clear; Type 2 could operate on three phase as well as single phase (our grid is three phase). It could also be locked into the car (so people can’t just come up to the car and unplug it).
As Tesla were building out their own charging infrastructure, both through the supercharging network as well as their destination charging network, they did not need to consider existing public charging infrastructure, the vast majority of which at the time was Type 1. They also did not need to consider inter-operability with other car manufacturers, meaning they didn’t need to worry that other manufacturers all used type 1.
While this was not a big issue at the outset, it soon became clear that there were going to be two major plug standards for Australian AC charging.
For DC charging Tesla used the equivalent of a “proprietary standard”. No other manufacturer uses the same plug for both AC and DC charging, and yet Tesla does. (In 2018 Tesla announced that the Model 3 would come with CCS2 instead).
With Tesla quickly becoming the best selling battery electric car in Australia, and also investing the most in public charging infrastructure, the move to Type 2 seemed inevitable…
The stumble: a return to Type 1
…except it didn’t. In 2016, the Audi A3 e-tron was introduced into Australia with a Type 1 plug due to the Tesla network being only available to Tesla vehicles. Again, we have another European brand eschewing their own standard to conform to the perceived Australian preference of Type 1. They were followed by BMW, Volvo and Mercedes, who all introduced plug-in hybrids using Type 1 plugs.
Action and reaction
That is when the automotive industry realised Australia’s EV adoption was being hindered by confusing plug standards. With no discernible action from government in relation to standardisation, various entities within the EV and automotive industries decided to act.
I remember sitting in a large meeting room at a vehicle manufacturer’s head office, with most of the entities involved in EV charging in Australia, discussing the implications of having multiple standards in the Australian market. I remember being particularly encouraged that everyone agreed on a need for action.
A year later, thanks to the hard work of some motivated individuals within the industry, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries released a technical statement on EV charging standards for public recharging infrastructure (read about it here), outlining a single approach to plug standards in Australia. It was recommending that by 2020, all its members should move to Type 2 charging for AC, and either CHAdeMO or CCS2 for DC Charging.
A single approach
In the year following, many of the manufacturers who brought vehicles with Type 1 plugs made the switch to Type 2 for AC charging; BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Porsche changed their plug-in hybrid specifications. Renault and Hyundai soon followed, and Nissan will be moving to Type 2 with the new Leaf.
On the DC side, there continues to be two standards: CHAdeMO and CCS2. Do we all wish there was just one standard? Sure. But we face different plug standards on a daily basis: Android vs Apple, petrol vs diesel nozzles, the endless number of USB variants. We haven’t stopped buying smartphones or cars, and it won’t be enough to slow down EVs.