Besides making an all-electric car that seat seven, looks great, and offers exhilarating performance, Tesla’s great coup has been delivering up to 265 miles of range on a single charge. And because that’s still not enough for drivers who want to take the occasional road trip, Elon Musk is building a vast network of “supercharger” stations so customers can charge the battery in just half and hour.
Trouble is, those stations are open only to those who drive a Tesla, because Elon gave his cars a proprietary plug. So if you’re in, say, a BMW i3 or an electric VW Golf, you are SOL.
But not for long. BMW and Volkswagen are teaming up to build a network of fast chargers that will span the east and west coasts and be open to any electric vehicle that uses the standard SAE J1772 or CHAdeMO plug. Granted, the i3 and e-Golf, which both have a range of roughly 80 miles, are marketed as commuters, not road-trippers. But “we want to now take that next step” and extend into the mid-range to long-range market, says Robert Healey, head of EV infrastructure for BMW of North America.
The stations will be built and operated by ChargePoint, the nation’s largest charging provider, which already has about 20,000 stations in place. Prices vary, but about $.50 per kilowatt-hour is standard, which means “filling” the e-Golf will run you 12 bucks if you’ve managed to completely drain the 24 kwHr pack.
In the east, the network will let drivers go from Boston to Washington on I-95. Out west, you’ll be able to drive from Portland, Oregon, to San Diego. The stations will offer 50-kW fast chargers, which can get most EVs up to 80 percent charge in 30 minutes, and slower 24-kW Level 2 stations.
The limited range of the i3 and e-Golf, which is on par with just about every EV not sold by Musk, means the stations will be at most 50 miles apart. The capacity of each hasn’t been finalized, says ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano, but most stations will handle just one or two cars at a time but could be expanded later. Installation should be a snap, he says, given ChargePoint’s experience dealing with permitting and construction, and the project is fully funded—although no one involved in the project is saying what it’s gonna cost. The first station already is being installed in San Diego, and the goal is to have nearly 100 more in place by the end of 2015. Beyond that, no one’s saying how many more we might (or might not) see.
So why didn’t BMW and VW each create their own network, like Tesla? Romano argues that working together, BMW and VW double the level of service they can offer consumers. And they don’t seem bothered by the idea that anyone in a Ford Focus Electric of Fiat 500e can power up at a station they funded. That’s because at this stage in the development of EVs, giving the technology every chance to succeed trumps competitive advantage. Automakers, trying to meet EV mandates in California and elsewhere, have a vested interest in seeing EVs gain traction with consumers.
“We’re not viewing our technology as proprietary when it comes to charging,” Healey says. “We want to insure that we’re using the same type of charger that other manufacturers will adopt, so we can support programs like this, and support further development of e-mobility within the US.”