Audi seems to have a clue — for long range electric cars to succeed, there must be a widespread fast charging network offering charging rates well above 100 kiloWatts. Tesla Motors has demonstrated with its Supercharger network that the combination of 70 kiloWatt-hours or more energy, and 120 kiloWatt charging, that electric car drivers can and do make Road Trips. According to a writeup on Green Car Reports, Audi executive Reinhard Hofmann explained this same issue at a meeting in Madrid with reporters, and promised that by 2018 Audi and some other automakers would jointly launch a fast charging network with at least 150 kiloWatt charging.
This plan falls exactly in line with what I’ve written about several times, including yesterday. Namely, Audi announced a demonstration of 150 kiloWatt Combo Charging System (CCS) equipment and vehicles at the “Electronics in Vehicles” (ELIV) congress held in Baden-Baden. This wasn’t Audi acting alone, but a group of German automakers calling themselves the Charging Interface Initiative e.V. (CharIN). The group is comprised of Audi, BMW, Daimler, Opel, Porsche and Volkswagen, TÜV SÜD and two manufacturers of industrial plugs: Mennekes and PhoenixContact.
According to Green Car Reports, Audi recognizes that the “success of [our] car [the e-tron Quattro] will depend on the charging infrastructure.” Their customers will look at the Tesla Model S and X — Tesla and Audi are in direct competition in the luxury car space — and choose the Tesla because the Supercharger network offers long range mobility.
The potential misuse of a proprietary car refueling system
For an automaker to operate a refueling business is a break with prior automotive industry history. I’m not convinced this is a desirable arrangement, since it is rife with potential for misuse. And, yes, Tesla Motors is doing exactly this, operating an electric car refueling business, without engaging in abuse. This CharIN initiative, being a joint venture between multiple automaker groups (VW Group, BMW Group, Daimler, GM) has less potential for misuse.
The history of fossil fuel powered cars is that refueling is handled by separate companies. Instead of a Ford Oil Company operated by Ford Motors who offers Ford branded gasoline stations, we have several different oil companies offering oil products through a network of distributors – the ubiquitous gasoline stations that come in all shapes and sizes. An automaker owned refueling network would run the risk of proprietary control over refueling choices – that somehow you couldn’t refuel a Ford at a General Motors gasoline station because something would be different. Because oil and car companies are separate businesses we have had the freedom to choose between gasoline brands as needed, especially with government mandated gasoline formula’s.
Audi et al – CharIN’s plans
The GCR writeup doesn’t explicitly mention the CharIN initiative. Because the Audi meeting GCR tells us about coincided pretty closely with Audi’s announcement of CharIN, the two must be linked. Hofmann has to have referred to the CharIN alliance without naming it.
GCR says that Audi promised “a DC fast-charging network” for buyers of the Audi e-tron Quattro electric SUV (due in 2018), and that this network would be offered “along with other [carmakers]”. Connect the dots, and you see Hofmann was surely talking about the CharIN alliance members named above.
Hofmann also promised “By the launch date [of the Quattro, in 2018] charging power will be increased to 150 kilowatts” and there would be a longer term expansion to a 350 kiloWatt charging rate.
There isn’t exactly consensus on how to get to this vision. Another executive (hydrogen fuel-cell expert Rene von Doorn) at the meeting echo’d what I wrote above, that the VW Group is “a carmaker, not an energy supplier” and that “We are not interested in [providing] any fueling infrastructure, except for demonstration projects.” (All these quotes are coming via GCR’s writeup)
As Voelcker said in this piece that successfully implementing this vision means working simultaneously on multiple tracks, such as:
- Committee work (presumably in the SAE J1772 committee) to define higher speed charging implementation.
- Agreement between automakers on funding and building such a charging network — over the next 3-5 years.
- Getting more automakers than just the CharIN alliance to buy in
- Technology or agreements to avoid demand charges (the extra fee charged by some utility companies for excess electricity demand)
This isn’t just Audi’s problem
All the automakers are promising longer range electric cars in the 2017-2020 time frame. Affordable 200+ mile range electric cars will become the norm, rather than the high priced alternative.
The owner of a 200+ mile range car is more likely to want to take longer drives, and even road trips. Road trips means fast charging, the higher the power the better. Tesla Motors has proved with the Supercharger network that a sub-1-hour recharge time is the threshold at which people start to take proper road trips.
Next year GM is slated to launch the Bolt (hopefully they come up with a better name), a 200+ mile range electric car. Has GM made any mention of a fast charging network? Nissan has promised a 300+ mile range electric car. Nissan has in the past worked to deploy CHAdeMO stations, but Nissan stopped that plan (it didn’t work out too well) and there’s not much mention of 100+ kW CHAdeMO other than Kia’s demonstration of higher speed charging on the Soul EV. Likewise, none of the other automakers have discussed plans to deploy charging stations – until now, with Audi’s statements.
What about the incumbent charging network operators? What about our needs?
There are several existing charging network operators. ChargePoint and Blink are the big bannana’s in this field in the U.S., and ChargePoint has a worldwide operations footprint.
How will Audi and the other CharIN alliance members go about building a suitable charging network? Will they turn to existing network operators? Or will they launch their own charging network? If the latter, will they flounder and squander time or will they do a good job of building a charging network?
What we electric car owners need is open access to a ubiquitous infrastructure of fast charging stations owned by several independent companies — similar to the open competitive network enjoyed by our gasoline powered brethren.
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