STANDARDIZATION remains the main hurdle European Union (EU) countries will have to pass to see an increased uptake of electric vehicles, auto industry specialists at a recent conference in Brussels organized by the Public Policy Exchange has determined. Their comments come as the European Union’s (EU) executive body, the European Commission starts an impact assessment “into the legislative options and technical modalities” of developing a standardized publicly accessible recharging infrastructure for electric vehicles in the EU.

The conference welcomed Brussels’ plan to adopt one single charging standard at the EU level, in a move to push the electric vehicles market forward.

Currently, France and Germany – the EU’s decision-making powerhouses, have two different standards in place.

Earlier this year, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), the European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA) and Eurelectric, all endorsed the Type-2 connector used in Germany, signalling they are willing to back European Commission plans to adopt one single EU recharger standard.

According to Ford, the main challenge for the German connector is that it lacks a ‘shutter’ cover for the connector preventing electrocution when a car is not being recharged. These are required by many European countries, including Britain, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Finland.

Out of the EU countries that have already adopted a charger type for plug-in electric vehicles, only France thus far has opted for Type-3; which is considered fully compatible with the national codes in all European countries for use in buildings, as well as linking vehicles to the electricity grid.

Petr Dolejsi, ACEA director of mobility and sustainable transport, stressed at the event that predictability and interoperability was needed to unlock the necessary investment in recharging infrastructure that is badly needed to make an EU electric car market fly: “Clear timing is needed – we cannot expect investment from the side of infrastructure providers to invest into uncertain solutions,” he said.

Nick Ford, senior automotive consultant at Frost & Sullivan, added: “We are not at the point yet where we can see the market being self-sustaining, so stimulations are still important to get to the point where we have enough early adopters taking on board the technology,” while stressing the need for continued government support for electric vehicles.

Overall, though, the implementation of charging infrastructure has gathered pace over the last two years, he said. Last year, according to data provided by Frost & Sullivan, the UK was the leading country in Europe in terms of the number of public charging stations available (1,800), followed by France (1,270), Germany and Spain (880 each).

Over in Germany, sales of electric cars have been disappointing thus far, with high purchase prices, unpersuasive statistics and power grid uncertainties being blamed.

Better grid management – including the development of a smart grid network with neighboring countries – may help; however, in a key potential stumbling block, ministers have not yet decided whether grid recharging fees for e-cars should be sent exclusively to renewable energy producers, or whether power plants of all kinds should benefit. According to the VDA, (the German Association of the Automotive Industry): “[Germany needs] a level competitive playing field, research promotion and market launch impetus going beyond the national borders.”

A VDA spokesperson told wardsauto that standardizing the interfaces between electric vehicles and the infrastructure in Europe “is just as necessary as having powerful infrastructures and climate-friendly energy for electric cars.”

In Italy, although norms governing the production of electrical vehicles are based almost entirely on EU directives and CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization) standards, there is one particular concern that exists, according to Pietro Menga, president of Cei Cives (the Italian branch of the European Association for Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles).

Under Italian regulations, both German and Italian-French connectors have been established as acceptable standards for electrical vehicles – potentially resulting in one standard too many.

In the growing public network of recharging stations, for example (there are currently around 1.300 public recharging columns currently installed in Italy), both connectors must necessarily be available to consumers. However, this is not necessarily the case when the recharger is located in a private area, such as a shopping mall car park.

These problems over charging standards might just get resolved through. Transport engineer Philippe Hirtzman, recently appointed by France’s new socialist government to deal with French electric vehicles range limitation and recharging issues has said that the plug standardization issue would soon be resolved. Charlotte de Silguy, secretary general of the France branch of Avere – the European Association for Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles – said she was optimistic. France’s new government “seems to have real will to implement e-mobility,” particularly with new regulations to encourage the installation of new charging points. “Thankfully, we will have an agreement soon,” predicted de Silguy.

But in some countries, there are so few electric cars that standardization is not even on the regulatory radar.

With a market of approximately 13 million cars in Poland, only about 2,000 of those vehicles have electric or hybrid engines – with these numbers not expected to grow anytime soon. According to Jakub Fary?, president of the Polish Automotive Industry Association, customers see little incentive to buy electric cars. Meanwhile, he added, boosting the market is low on the government’s list of priorities.

Customers in Poland find the cost of batteries for electric cars at around Euro EUR1,000 (USD1,272) too expensive, and charging times (which are up to 12 times longer than with standard cars) “too much of a burden,” said Fary?. At the same time, he said, an economic slowdown means the government sees little benefit in devoting resources to electric car incentives.

“For the moment a limited number of cities are trying to introduce solutions,” such as free parking for electric cars and allowing them to drive in bus lanes, said Fary?, although there are no such plans in the capital Warsaw.