Three Japanese automakers and utility firm Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) will join to expand and standardise infrastructure such as electric vehicle (EV) battery chargers to remove one of the biggest barriers to making the zero-emission cars mainstream, they announced today.

Nissan Motor, which showed off its first production EV on Sunday, Mitsubishi Motors, which has its iMEV already on sale, and Fuji Heavy Industries which is marketing the electric Subaru Stella, all currently use fast-charge units developed by TEPCO. They have agreed with the utility to set up a committee during the current business year.

''One of the critical challenges to promoting electric cars will be to standardise infrastructure like the charging machines,'' Fuji Heavy corporate senior vice president Akira Mabuchi told Kyodo News.

''In this area, the industry as a whole will need to unite and cooperate,'' Nissan senior vice president Minoru Shinohara said.

Quick charging stations for lithium ion battery -powered EVs are still scarce in Japan.

In fiscal 2009, TEPCO plans to make 310 of its 8,500 commercial vehicles electric and acquire 43 quick chargers, each costing about JPY3.5m (US$37,000).

''We want to make the quick chargers cheaper since they will spread faster if we make them affordable,'' Nissan's Shinohara said.

Officials did not say where foreign automakers currently stood on ways to standardise EV charging but indicated they hoped to make the domestic standard applicable outside Japan.

''The development of electric cars will likely speed up overseas as well, so it would be better if we have mostly the same charging system,'' TEPCO executive vice president Hiroyuki Ino said.

''In the future, we would like to offer overseas the knowledge on quick chargers we attained in Japan,'' Ino added.

Nissan's EV plans