A suite of big-name manufacturers including Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, Fiat, Toyota, and Mitsubishi, have agreed on a common standard for the plugs used for charging electric vehicles. According to German energy company RWE, the plug will be a three-point (live, neutral, earth) arrangement that uses a fixed 400V supply. Daimler, maker of the upcoming electric Smart car, has already begun a pilot scheme with RWE in Berlin (pictured). Although talks are ongoing to finalize the design details, it's due for unveiling today in Hanover, Germany, at the world's biggest industrial tech fair--Hanover Messe.
This agreement means that whatever brand of EV you own, you'll be able to pull into a roadside electric "gas" station and hook it up to a charging stand for a top-up without having to hunt for one that matches your car's brand of connector. That makes charging electric cars on the go (perhaps at a rest-stop on a long freeway ride) identical to how you can pull into any gas station today and top-up your petrol tank, a fact which will undoubtedly aid public adoption of the new technology. The adoption of a standard should also help keep costs down in terms of car production and for the manufacturers of public charging points--both good in lowering prices for the EV owner.
That "rest-stop" model will probably only be relevant in the early years of the EV, while the cars have limited range. But there's also the issue of cross-boarder traveling to think about--less of an issue for private drivers in the U.S., but the European public is used to crossing boarders on a daily basis. If each country had a different standard, then having to haul around a bunch of socket/voltage converters would be a severe barrier to adoption. And there are all those millions of trucks on the roads, hauling materials between exporters and importers--someday soon they'll be electric too.
The big names involved in this agreement dwarf some of the the interesting, but low-volume EV producers currently in the news, such as Tesla, Aptera. With these companies getting behind the EV plug standard, electric cars could become viable sooner than you may have imagined.