BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen Group hope a network of high-power charging stations they are rolling out with Ford Motor will set an industry standard for plugs and protocols and will give them an edge over electric-car rivals.
At the moment, Tesla and automakers in Japan and Germany use different plugs and communication protocols to link batteries to chargers, but companies building the charging networks needed for EVs to become mainstream say the number of plug formats will need to be limited to keep costs down.
To try to build critical mass for the Combined Charging System (CCS) favored by Europe, BMW, Daimler, Ford and VW, said in November they would develop 400 high-power charging stations on main roads in 18 European countries by 2020.
“In the end, it is about safe-guarding investments for those that are investing in electric mobility,” said Claas Bracklo, head of electromobility at BMW and the chairman of the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN), which is backing CCS. “We have founded CharIN to build a position of power.”
Automakers behind the winning technology will benefit from having an established supply chain and an extensive network, making their vehicles potentially more attractive to customers worried about embarking upon longer journeys, analysts say.
Manufacturers that back losing plugs, however, could end up with redundant research and development and may have to invest to adapt assembly lines and vehicle designs so their customers can use the most widespread fast-charging networks.
Swiss bank UBS has estimated that $360 billion will need to be spent over the next eight years to build global charging infrastructure to keep pace with EV sales, and it will be key to limit the numerous technologies now in use. “The quick-charging marketplace might be growing fast but the issue of different types of connectivity and communication will need to be resolved going forward,” UBS said in a study published this month.
It is still early days for EVs and difficult to predict which plug technology will prevail or even whether there will always be different ways to charge vehicles, unlike the one-size-fits-all nozzle that can refill all gasoline or diesel cars. But there is a lot at stake for the automakers ploughing billions of dollars into the development of batteries and EVs.