The time has come to accelerate international cooperation in developing common global standards for electric vehicles. That means getting North America more involved in the process.
Two events last week signaled the growing urgency for action. Tesla's successful initial public offering suggests heightened investor interest in EVs. This comes as Nissan prepares to launch the Leaf electric vehicle in December, General Motors readies the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid for delivery this fall and Mitsubishi is on track to sell the i-MiEV next year.
Also last week, the European Union moved closer to common standards by starting work to develop a single charging system for batteries used in electric vehicles. That level of collaboration was significant because each European nation wants to establish itself as the leading green country. Earlier in June, the European auto industry association ACEA said it had developed recommendations for EV plug and socket specifications.
Separately, SAE has developed a Type 1 connector -- known as J1772 -- which will be used in North America for slow charging. It is one of the options for producers in Europe.
But commonality of plugs and sockets for slow charging is only a part of the challenge. There are issues with private charging stations, public charging stations and how charging units will interface with power grids since grids and voltages can vary by country. There also are safety issues.
So far, much of the global EV energy is coming from Europe, where the International Organization for Standardization, the International Electrotechnical Commission and various European groups are engaged.
Since China, where the government dictates winning technologies, tends to use European standards as a guide, Europe is where the global EV standards seem likely to be formulated.
North America should not come to the party late. It behooves North American automakers, suppliers and power companies and the U.S. government -- as well as industry associations such as SAE and IEEE -- to be part of the global conversation.
With the EV era dawning, it would make sense for the three largest markets in the world -- China, the United States and Europe -- to have common standards.
Timely collaboration will benefit automakers, suppliers, power companies and consumers around the world. The time to do it is now.