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Volkswagen, BMW Join Forces to Create EV-Charging Corridor


At the 2015 Washington Auto Show, two top automakers announced an initiative to create express-charging corridors on the East and West coasts.

Together with ChargePoint, the world's largest electric vehicle charging network, the American divisions of Volkswagen and BMW hope that increased access to fast-charging stations will speed U.S. adoption of electric vehicles, the companies said in a press conference on Thursday.

If this sounds familiar, that's probably because it is. The ever-elusive "electric highway" has been in the making for years, and many companies have tried and failed to make it happen. But this latest endeavor, which will add to the growing ChargePoint network of more than 20,000 locations in North America, just may bring Americans closer to the dream of an electrified road trip.

Installations have already begun on the West Coast, with the first location in San Diego County. The companies plan to move at a rapid clip, completing 100 fast-charging stations on both coasts by the end of this year.

“The build-out schedule is literally as fast as humanly possible,” Robert Healey, head of EV Infrastructure at BMW of North America, told Forbes on Thursday. “We’re fully funded and fully staffed. The only limiting factor is normal construction time.”

Volkswagen and BMW team up for better charging

In the initial phase of the Volkswagen-BMW partnership, the aim is to install nearly 100 direct current (DC) fast-charging ports across both coasts. The so-called "express-charging corridors" will begin with the most heavily-populated and highly-trafficked regions on Interstate 95 on the East Coast, from Boston to Washington, D.C. Out west, the planned corridors will connect the Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas, the companies said.

Installations are planned both within and between relevant metros, strategically-spaced at a maximum of 50 miles apart -- well within 80- to 100-mile range of the automakers' top-selling EVs, the Volkswagen e-Golf and BMW i3.

Each charging location is expected to include up to two 50-kilowatt DC fast-chargers, or 24-kilowatt DC Combo fast-chargers with the SAE Combo connector, the companies said. When charging at a 50 kW station, both the i3 and the e-Golf can charge up to 80 percent in 20 minutes (30 minutes for a 24 kW station).

Fast-charging gives drivers just enough time to grab a bite to eat, use the restroom and be on their merry way. It's a familiar model that companies seeking to establish an "electric highway" have used before with mixed results -- and one that ChargePoint already utilizes successfully in its growing network. The charging stations are planned for pitstop locations that already exist along major roadways, such as restaurants, shopping centers and rest areas, making it all the more convenient for drivers to charge up.

"With strategically-placed stations where drivers need them, these express-charging corridors will give EV drivers the freedom to go farther and have an EV as their only car without limitation,” ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano said in a statement.

The fast-charging ports can be used to charge both BMW and Volkswagen electric vehicles, as well as other EVs that incorporate DC Fast Charging/SAE Combo capability, such as the Chevy Spark EV. Upcoming models from Audi, Chrysler, Ford, Mercedes and Porsche are also expected to use the SAE Combo DC fast-charging standard, reports TorqueNews.

The planned charging locations will also include Level 2 chargers, the companies said, giving all EV drivers a chance to charge up (albeit a bit more slowly). Level 2 chargers can dispense up to 25 miles of range per hour of charging in any EV, providing a full charge for the BMW i3 and the VW e-Golf within 3.5 to 4 hours.

The new automaker: From "building cars" to "e-mobility"

Only a few short years ago, most companies released EVs with the good ol' fashioned "if you build it, they will come" philosophy. But recently we've seen major automakers come to realize that taking an active role in establishing an e-mobility network -- one that makes it feasible for average drivers to own an EV and use it daily -- is good for business.

“Volkswagen believes in a holistic approach to e-mobility in order to create a seamless experience for the consumer,” said Jörg Sommer, vice president of product marketing and strategy for Volkswagen of America, in a statement. “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.”

Robert Healey of BMW said the corridors are "another important step in the development of the U.S. e-mobility infrastructure," adding that a more expansive charging network will make "the BMW i3 and other electric vehicles even more appealing."

Tesla became the first automaker to enter the charging business when it broke ground on its Supercharger network in 2012, installing six charging stations in California. The network now boasts more than 150 charging stations across 38 U.S. states, as well as locations in Canada, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, well surpassing the company's initial goal to have 100 operational by 2015.

With a first-phase rollout of 100 charging stations, this three-way partnership could very well give Tesla a run for its money -- with one notable difference: Any EV driver can use the stations, while the Supercharger network serves Tesla drivers only. And this distinction will only become more important as more EVs using the same fast-charging standard hit the market.

Image courtesy of Volkswagen

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs. 

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