With every new EV announced by German premium automakers, EV enthusiasts ask “but where is their Supercharger network?”
The new all-electric cars coming from German premium automakers in the next two years have little to do with their previous low-volume compliance electric cars. They had little to no reason to invest in charging infrastructure to support those like Tesla did with the Supercharger network, but that’ not the case for their new EVs, which are full-fledged vehicle programs with billions in investments behind them.
They need to step up their EV infrastructure to support those vehicles and in the absence of a Tesla Supercharger-like effort directly from the automakers, other companies are now stepping in.
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Aside from Tesla, automakers rely on third-party charging networks owned by charging hardware manufacturers, electric utility companies, or even government entities.
Those organizations face an important challenge as more electric vehicles hit the road. In Germany alone, they have the ambitious goal to have 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2020.
Currently, their network supports about 50,000 electric vehicles.
It’s easy to be doubtful that they could achieve that goal, but with Audi coming with the e-tron quattro next year, Mercedes launching the EQC the year after, along with Porsche promising to start producing the all-electric Mission E in volume around the same time and VW having its I.D. car, they certainly have a shot.
Now the question is: Will the EV infrastructure follow?
Some companies are certainly getting behind the idea.
In July, German electric utility EnBW recently announced that they will deploy 1,000 new EV charging stations along the German Autobahn.
Earlier this week, they sent an order for “117 rapid-charging columns” to ABB. The Swiss infrastructure company wrote in a press release:
“The fast-charging stations, which are now being installed in cooperation with EnBW, have a charging capacity of 50 kW and are very compact, which makes them particularly suitable for highway rest stops, service stations, car dealerships, business locations and highly frequented inner-city areas. The charging stations can be installed in almost every parking configuration and vehicles can be recharged within 30 minutes.”
Fastned is also starting to build its own network of charging stations in Germany – starting with 25 new fast-charging stations.
Those deployments of charging stations should help support at least the early ramp-up of the new electric cars coming to Germany, where German automakers are expected to first deliver them.
Other markets, like the US, are to come later, but they will still need significantly more charging infrastructure.
Interestingly, that’s where VW’s ‘Electrify America’ becomes important. The EV infrastructure startup born out of VW’s $2 billion court settlement for the DieselGate scandal is starting to deploy EV charging stations and the most important part of the rollout should come by the end of the decade, when German automakers start bringing their new EVs to the US.
The plan is not perfect, but it will definitely add a lot of high-capacity chargers. The plan for California includes installing ultra-fast 320 kW chargers and the plan for the whole country includes a ‘nationwide 150 kW+ fast charging network’.
All those announcements are ultimately good for EV infrastructure, but automakers need to consider something when they rely on those third-parties to support their EV fleets.
Those companies are inevitably out to make profits and that means that they want to optimize the use of their charging networks and not necessarily the ownership experience of the EV drivers.
For example, that’s why aside from Tesla’s Supercharger network, you rarely see more than 4 to 6 chargers per station. Having chargers sit idle is not good business, but when demand increases during high traffic periods, they are all occupied.
Also, they lose direct control over the pricing and accessibility scheme. Some automakers have tried to get around that and made deals directly with the network operators, like Nissan and BMW with EVgo in the US for example, but it’s a complicated network-by-network solution.
Those are challenges that automakers will have to keep in mind when selling their new electric cars without having control over the charging networks.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a lot of cooperation around the CCS charging standard, which could lead to a more uniform charging experience between networks. It remains to be seen, but it looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.