Race is on to set up Europe’s EV charging network
Munich — Charging an electric car away from home can be an exercise in uncertainty — hunting for that one lonely station at the back of a rest-area parking lot and hoping it’s working.
In Europe, some of the biggest automakers are out to remove such anxieties from the battery-only driving experience and encourage electric-vehicle sales by building a highway network of fast charging stations. The idea is to let drivers plug in, charge in minutes instead of hours, and speed off on their way — from Norway to southern Italy and Portugal to Poland.
Much is at stake for the automakers, which include Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler and Ford. Their joint venture, Munich-based Ionity, is pushing to roll out its network in time to service the next generation of battery-only cars coming on the market starting next year. They’re aiming to win back some of the market share for electric luxury car sales lost to Tesla, which has its own, proprietary fast-charging network.
Despite a slower-than-expected start, Ionity CEO Michael Hajesch said he’s “confident” the company will reach its goal of 400 ultra-fast charging stations averaging six charging places each by 2020.
Ionity opened its first station April 17 at a rest stop near the small town of Niederzissen in western Germany. The six high-speed chargers are operating in “welcome mode,” meaning they’re free until May 31. After that, Ionity plans to charge for the power, which it seeks to obtain from renewable sources.
Ionity has agreements for some 300 sites, working with fueling station and rest stop landlords. The average distance between stations will be 75 miles.
More charging availability is what it will take to get an environmentally aware car buyer like Rainer Hoedt to choose a battery-only vehicle. The 58-year-old Berlin geography teacher owns a Mitsubishi Outlander, a plug-in hybrid that combines internal combustion with a battery he can charge overnight. The battery-only range of 30 miles lets him drive emissions free for daily trips at home.
But a family vacation of more than 120 mile was a different story. Hoedt had to drive on internal combustion before finding a lone charging station as he approached his destination, using the goingelectric.de website.
“It was right next to the highway, there was one charging station and we were lucky that it was free,” he said. But he couldn’t find a charging station he could use by the seashore.
Tesla has shown how charging infrastructure can drive vehicle sales. It has 1,229 stations with 9,623 fast chargers in Europe alone, where it has cut into Mercedes and BMW’s sales of luxury cars. But it has its own proprietary plug. Ionity is using the CCS plug backed by the European Union as a common standard for all.
In both the U.S. and Europe, the situation is roughly similar: More chargers available in jurisdictions where government strongly backs electric vehicles, such as California, Norway or the Netherlands. Elsewhere, chargers get can harder to find for long stretches along rural highways.
Ionity is counting on the large 350-kilowatt capacity of its publicly available chargers — almost three times the 120 kilowatts per vehicle of Tesla’s Superchargers. No car currently on the market can make full use of 350 kilowatt charging capacity. But they’re coming: in 2019 Porsche plans to introduce the Mission E. Porsche says that the sleek, low-slung sports car will take 15 minutes to charge for 250 miles more driving.