Does Nissan want to join Tesla Motors, BMW on electric-car charging talks?

Nissan reportedly wants to join discussions with Tesla Motors and BMW on charging standards. What does this mean for the electric car market?

Tyrone Siu/Reuters/File
A sign is painted on a parking space for electric cars inside a car park in Hong Kong January 29, 2012. Nissan reportedly wants to talk with Tesla Motors and BMW about charging stations for electric cars.

With modern, mass-market electric cars on sale for three and a half years now, you might think that the path for growth has been pretty much laid out by now.

But the great disruptor, Silicon Valley electric-car startup Tesla Motors, may be changing the playbook once again.

According to a report in the UK's Financial Times, there's now a third party interested in joining the discussions on charging standards already held between Tesla and BMW: Nissan, which has built and sold more electric cars than any other company in history.

Which means that the first and third highest-volume plug-in electric car companies in the world (Nissan and Tesla, respectively) could soon be talking – along with BMW, which is by far the most serious of the three luxury German brands about battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The report was attributed to "sources at the three companies" and one quotation was said to be from "one executive, who declined to be named as the plans are not yet official."

Tesla CEO Elon Musk mentioned casually last week that he'd just had a meeting with BMW, following the announcement that Tesla would (under certain circumstances) offer access to its patents to other automakers (on the apparent assumption that they would do the same for Tesla).

With BMW's new, technically-advanced i3 battery-electric car now on the market, the very first few vehicles to use the Combined Charging Standard (CCS) plug, socket, and software protocols for DC fast-charging are now hitting the streets.

But there are far fewer charging locations for that standard than there are for the Tesla Supercharging system (more than 100 globally) and the several-year-old CHAdeMO standard (more than 1,000 globally) used primarily by Nissan.

While all the US and European makers have combined behind the CCS standard, it remains highly unclear what entities will fund the installation of CCS fast-charging stations in the absence of government subsidies.

Tesla, meanwhile, offers access to its Supercharger network free to all its Model S owners who have Supercharging capability built into their cars (free on most models, a $2,000 option on low-end cars).

Could BMW and, more importantly, Nissan see the Tesla standard as a quicker way to provide truly high-speed recharging for their customers--and a fast-expanding network already in place as well?

If so, where would that leave General Motors, Ford, Daimler, and VW Group, the other makers solidly behind the CCS standard?

Watch for more to come soon on a story that, if true, could quickly reorder the prospects for global fast-charging standards for drivers of plug-in electric cars.

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