Today at the Washington Auto Show in Washington D.C., German automakers BMW and Volkswagen announced a major new partnership with charging provider ChargePoint that not only has the potential to change the face of rapid charging provision in the U.S., but accelerate both companies to the top of the electric car sales charts.
Working together, the two automakers and nationwide charging provider say they will build electric vehicle express charging corridors on both east and west coasts of the U.S., joining major cities and metropolitan areas with a string of CCS-compatible DC quick charging stations.
In total, the collaboration is expected to see the numbers of CCS-compatible DC quick chargers on both coasts increase by nearly 100 stations, laying a path which will eventually not only join coastal regions together but the whole of the U.S.
On the U.S. west coast, the charging corridor will span the entire length of the I-5 from San Diego and Los Angeles, California in the south to Portland, Oregon in the north. Likewise, the east-coast corridor will link cities and towns along the I-95 from Boston in the north to Washington D.C. in the south.
Of course, Volkswagen, BMW and ChargePoint aren’t the first to tackle quick charging provision for long-distance, inter-city travel by electric car. Tesla Motors already has its own nationwide Supercharger network, and Nissan has invested heavily in its own network of CHAdeMO DC quick charge stations for use along major travel corridors in pro-electric car areas like the Pacific Northwest.
But the project being tackled by Volkswagen and BMW is just as big, if not bigger than Nissan’s own efforts thus far, and will cater to not just BMW and Volkswagen cars, but also to owners of the Chevrolet Spark EV, which is also makes use of the CCS quick charging standard.
“A robust network of conveniently located DC Fast charging stations will go a long way toward increasing electric vehicle adoption and making electric vehicle ownership even more enjoyable” said Robert Healey, Head of EV Infrastructure at BMW of North America. “The express charging corridors are another important step in the development of the U.S. e-mobility infrastructure that makes longer distance travel a real option for consumers, particularly among the most heavily-trafficked portions of both coast — making the BMW i3 and other electric vehicles even more appealing.”
“Volkswagen believes in a holistic approach to e-mobility in order to create a seamless experience for the consumer,” said Jörg Sommer, vice president, product marketing and strategy for Volkswagen of America. “The investment in the express charging corridor will provide e-Golf and other electric vehicle owners with the added support to travel their day-to-day and popular long distance routes.”
Working with ChargePoint, the two companies intend to identify suitable charging sites spaced no more than 50 miles apart, making it possible for today’s limited-range CCS-compatible cars to easily travel between charging stations with range to spare. At each site, up to two 50 kilowatt DC CCS quick charging stations will be installed, or two 24 kilowatt DC combo quick charging stations will be installed.
Worthy of note however is the intention to install a backup Level 2 charging station at every quick charging site too. While the CCS charging stations will only be pin-compatible with the BMW i3, Volkswagen e-Golf and Chevrolet Spark EV at launch, any electric car that can use a Level 2 charging station — pretty much every plug-in car on sale in the U.S. today — will be able to benefit from the new network.
As with the rest of the ChargePoint network, access to the new charging stations will be via an active ChargePoint card or the ChargePoint smartphone app, while BMW ChargeNow customers will also be able to use their own dedicated card and smartphone app to activate a charging session.
Chargepoint, Volkswagen and BMW say the first stage of the project will be complete by the end of 2015, with nearly 100 DC quick charging stations installed along the east and west coasts in the next twelve months. As with Tesla’s own Supercharger network and Nissan’s network of DC quick charging stations, restaurants, shopping centres, rest stops and popular destinations along each coast will be prime candidates for a rapid charging station installation, and work has already commenced on the first of the new charging stations in San Diego.
Until today’s announcement, the BMW i3, Volkswagen e-Golf and Chevrolet Spark EV were something of limited-range cars for many owners. Despite possessing rapid charging technology in the form of a CCS quick charge socket, the majority of owners lived well out of reach of a quick charging station. In fact, if we’re honest, you could probably count the number of CCS quick charging stations in most cities on one hand — even in electric-car friendly cities like Los Angeles, New York or Seattle.
Today’s announcement will change that for anyone living on the east or west coast of the U.S., making mid- and long-range trips by electric car far more practical than they once were.
What’s more, today’s announcement has the power to dramatically shake up the status quo in the electric car marketplace, since it finally gives long-range capabilities to three mainstream electric cars which we’re guessing many buyers ignored in preference to the Nissan LEAF, simply because the LEAF had a better, more mature rapid charging network.
If Volkswagen, BMW and Chargepoint manage to keep their project on track, the electric vehicle marketplace in twelve months’ time could be very different to today’s.
Watch this space.
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