Fastest car chargers wait for batteries to catch up

David Stringer
Bloomberg News

The viability of electric vehicles depends in part on a manufacturing plant in eastern Australia, where gleaming white cabinets the size of large refrigerators are loaded onto shipping crates. They’re among the most advanced car chargers available, promising to deliver a full tank of juice in minutes.

Automakers and energy companies are spearheading the global rollout of these ultra-fast charging pumps to lure consumers from gas guzzlers and toward vehicles powered by electricity.

Electric vehicles will comprise more than half of all new car sales in 2040, according to BloombergNEF, as prices come down, while battery life and driving ranges get longer. To meet the power demand, about $50 billion of investment in charging equipment is needed through 2030, according to McKinsey & Co.

Volkswagen AG, Tesla Inc. and Ford Motor Co. are among the automakers spending on high-speed chargers with eyes toward that future. Current power packs aren’t compatible with the fastest chargers, and the first EVs able to fully utilize the new pumps won’t debut until later this year.

Still, car companies are nudging battery makers to catch up to help allay nagging consumer concerns that EVs can’t take uninterrupted lengthy trips and that motorists face long, inconvenient waits to recharge on the go.

“It’s about impacting that buying decision in the dealership,’’ said David Finn, chief executive officer of Tritium Pty, an Australian supplier of high-power chargers to more than 25 countries. “The main reason you own a car is for the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you feel like it. That will always be playing on your mind if you have a slow charger.’’

A typical, slow-speed public EV charger offers about 20 miles of driving distance per hour at the plug. The next level up, called a fast charger, can add about 75 miles in 30 minutes, according to Los Angeles-based station operator EVgo Services LLC.

The ultra-fast chargers blow those away.

Tritium, formed in 2001 by members of a solar-car racing team, makes pumps that add more than 215 miles of range in 10 minutes. Customers include Ionity GmbH — a consortium of carmakers, including Volkswagen and Ford, that’s partnering with energy giants such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Kuwait Petroleum International.

Ionity is building about 400 stations — with as many as six ultra-fast chargers each — on European highways to compete with networks backed by Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. ABB, with chargers deployed in 70 countries, is also supplying high-speed pumps.

Electrify America, a Volkswagen unit created under a settlement in the automaker’s emissions scandal, is spending $2 billion on refueling stations in the U.S. over a decade, installing its first ultra-fast charger in Massachusetts last May.

Tesla, which has more than 12,000 chargers globally, is boosting the speed of its own refueling units to cut time at the pump by as much as half. The upgrade promises to add as much as 75 miles of charge in five minutes — still lagging the ultra-fast models.

While it may be years before battery packs able to handle the power surge from ultra-fast chargers go mainstream, some new EVs already can recharge faster than previous generations.