SAE standard on EV charging connector approved

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J1772 specifies a five-pin connector for delivering 120 or 240 V. (General Motors)

SAE International gets public exposure beyond its famous oil-can identifier, and the automotive industry gets critical guidelines that help pave the way for an EV future now that the organization has approved an updated standard for connectors used to charge full- and partial-electric vehicles.

It is the first and only such standard in the world reached by industry consensus, according to SAE. The update of J1772—the standard was originally approved in 1996—accommodates the latest generation of vehicles that need to be plugged in for charging of their high-energy batteries.

Approved Jan. 14 by the SAE Motor Vehicle Council, the standard—codified as J1772-Electric Vehicle and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Conductive Charge Coupler—spells out the physical and electrical characteristics of the connector and the vehicle electrical inlet. It enables charging at 120 or 240 V with a connector of standardized dimension and function to optimize ease of use for consumers while reining in expenses that multiple, unstandardized charging interfaces otherwise would entail for automakers, their suppliers, and other parties including consumers, according to Jack Pokrzywa, Manager of Ground Vehicle Standards for SAE.

Makers of connectors meeting the standard have the option of incorporating an “SAE J1772” marking onto the surface of the device. Use of the marking on the connector is seen as a consumer aid—in the same way the oil-can identifier is—to assure buyers that the product is designed to the standard.

“Future consumers/users of electric and [other types of plug-in] vehicles will benefit from this standard, which eliminates any confusion or uncertainty about being able to easily connect to home, work, or public charging stations,” said Steve Matsil, Executive Director, Vehicle Systems (retired), General Motors. As Chairman of the SAE Motor Vehicle Council from 2007 to 2009, Matsil championed the updating of J1772.

“The development…of J1772 is an excellent example of global automotive OEMs/suppliers, electrical utility industry, and government collaboration by very talented and dedicated engineers,” he added.

The standard was put together by the SAE Hybrid J1772 Task Force, the work of which was overseen by its Chair, Gery Kissel, Engineering Specialist, RSS Charging Systems, Charging Codes, Standards, and Infrastructure, General Motors. The task force was formed in August 2006 and has grown to more than 100 members from the automotive, utility, and charging-equipment industries.

Kissel estimated that development of the standard involved about 5000 man-hours "in meetings alone."

"It is exciting to see the document finally reach this stage," he said. "It will add great stability to the PEV market. In the coming year, industry-leading vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt will use this standard to make charging their vehicles as familiar and easy as fueling them is today."

The standard allows for charging at home, at work, or at public charging stations. The standard as now written addresses two charging levels:

AC Level 1: 120 V, 1 phase, up to 16 A

AC Level 2: 240 V, 1 phase, up to 80 A

The J1772 task force has begun work on specifications for higher-voltage, fast-rate dc charging. "Only the first chapter of the electrification of the vehicle has been written," said Kissel. "The committee is eager to write the next chapter."

SAE’s Pokrzywa offered high praise for the work of Kissel. “He has done an outstanding job in managing this very demanding and difficult project, accommodating various positions and technical opinions from global technical experts,” said Pokrzywa. “He has brokered the best possible solutions and assured that the SAE process is satisfied.”

SAE has been queried heavily by interested parties from around the globe on the status of J1772, according to Pokrzywa.

He noted the standard was developed “in cooperation with U.S., European, and Japanese experts,” but cautioned that, given the differences in electrical architectures among some countries, it is too soon to say how widely J1772 will be adopted outside the U.S. At the least, he said, “the SAE standard represents a big step forward in the move toward electrification of the vehicle on a global scale.”

Kissel said that even though utility voltages may differ from country to country (220 V in China, for example), J1772 "can be used anywhere."

Donald Anderson, Engineering Executive at Chrysler and Chair of the SAE Hybrid Vehicle Technical Standards Committee under which the J1772 Hybrid Task Force operates, described the importance of J1772 as “tremendous” and said technical standards “are essential prerequisites to the widespread electrification of the world’s vehicle fleet. As the volume of plug-in vehicles increases over this new decade, the J1772 standard will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Some have likened the significance of J1772 to the SAE oil spec.

“It's too early to make that leap,” said the SAE Motor Vehicle Council's Matsil. “The oil spec has survived the test of time. Let's see how long and how well J1772 holds up.”

About J1772’s near-term impact, Matsil said with much greater certainty, “this collaborative effort resulted in a well-thought-out and inclusive solution that can be immediately put to practical use.”

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