Auto Execs Agree Infrastructure Is Key To Electric Car Success


Executives from two major auto companies stated this week that the electric car revolution is on hold until a comprehensive charging infrastructure exists. In New York, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault Nissan, told an audience, “The main problem of electric cars is people complaining that there is no infrastructure.” At a meeting outside of Stuttgart, Germany, Stefan Niemann, Audi’s head of electric cars, echoed those sentiments. “We need awesome cars and a seamless infrastructure,” he said.

SuperCharger location in Colorado Springs

Niemann scolded his colleagues at a meeting of the Technical Congress of Germany’s powerful automotive industry organization, the VDA. Matthias Wissmann, president of the VDA, started by advocated for better diesel engine technology for the industry. “Without diesel technology, Europe won’t be able to meet its CO2 targets,” he said. Niemann disagreed. “Those who had ever driven electrically are lost for the internal combustion engine for all times,” he told his colleagues.

He said that car buyers really want to buy an electric car that will not harm the environment and are even willing to pay a premium for them — as the success of the Tesla Model S has clearly demonstrated. But they don’t want to sacrifice the fun of driving either. That means they require an extensive network of high power charging stations so they can drive wherever they wish without waiting hours to recharge along the way. Niemann said chargers that operate at 350 kW or more are essential.

According to EE Times Europe, he also had unkind words for the electric car lineup currently available to European drivers.  “These cars are slower than those with conventional drive and they have a much lower range – and in compensation they are more expensive,” he said. He then went on to praise Tesla for going out and building a charging infrastructure for its customers while the rest of the industry are sitting on their hands waiting for someone else to do the hard work for them. “I hate to admit it, but Tesla did everything right,” he said.

As forthright and visionary as Carlos Ghosn is, he used his time the New York auto show to demand governments build the charging infrastructure needed to get mainstream drivers to switch to an electric car, according to Inside EVs. “Governments, in order to encourage the industry to move in this direction, they’re going to have to finally build the infrastructure,” he said.

Tesla has done exactly that and without a dime of public money. According to Teslarati, it now has 611 SuperCharger locations worldwide with more than 3,600 individual high power charging stations. It has also forged partnerships with thousands of shopping destinations, hotels and B&B’s to make lower power chargers available for its customers. In the long run, the success of Tesla Motors may hinge on the fact that it created a reliable charging network with its own money while others waited for someone else to pick up the check.

Image credit: Tesla Motors

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • kvleeuwen

    Niemann sounds like he is the right man on the right spot 🙂
    Not just Tesla alone, Fastned too is building great infra without public money.
    I do not think the car makers should provide the infrastructure, that will only lead to incompatibilities.
    But because the car makers think global, good infra in just the Netherlands is quite useless and unable to break the chicken-and-egg problem of infra availability and car availability.
    And while Tesla does most things right, even the (unavailable) Model 3 is too expensive to become mainstream.
    For the next few years, expect gradual improvements on both car and infra sides.

    • Steve Hanley

      All good point. Thanks for sharing your insights with us.

      • kvleeuwen

        I wonder why Tesla does not allow Fastned to install Superchargers at their sites, I know Fastned would love to do that and their locations are the best possible.

        Also, I wonder why no American entrepeneur picks up this business opportunity to build the infra 🙂

        • Steve Hanley

          Don’t know the answer to the first question. The answer to the second is, there is not enough profit in offering charging services. If there was, companies would be fighting to the chance.

          It’s the chicken/egg conundrum. As of this moment, there simply aren’t enough EVs in the US to make it pay.

          • kvleeuwen

            In the Netherlands, this conundrum has been partially broken by the government. In 2012, the government auctioned 245 locations next to the freeway for a fifteen year (!) exclusive concession.
            Fastned expected to make a loss for five to seven years, but the last eight years will make up for that.
            A bit of a gamble, but if they are right, they have taken hold of nearly all of the high-value locations for a small fee.
            The same principle will be tried in Germany.

            Look up “The Fastned Story” for more information:

            The easily accessible highway stations are able to charge higher fuel prices – saving time is freedom for the driver, and people will pay for that. In addition, these sites are scarce. Only 245 of the 4,500 filling stations in the Netherlands are located along the highway. The law forbids other sites from being developed there. Fifteen-year concessions for highway sites are auctioned each year, for an average of 6 million euros per site! That amounts to a total of 1.5 billion euros for the entire network.

            Getting hold of these sites is no easy matter for oil companies. But now, the emergence of the EV has thrown the playing field wide open. The best sites are gold mines. It’s all about location, location, location.

          • GregS

            Most gas stations don’t make much money on gas, with the vast majority of their profits made food and drinks. Seem like it would be a good idea for some gas stations, especially those located on major roads in between major cities to offer high speed charging and take advantage of the 30 minutes the customer will be there to sell them other items.

          • Steve Hanley

            Tesla thinks the way you do. I recently put a new SuperCharger on the route between Sydney and Melbourne in Australia. But instead of putting in the service area on the edge of the highway, it put it 5 miles away in a small town that had been bypassed by the highway years ago.

            Now people bring their Teslas to town to charge them and go shopping and dining while they are there. The town is ecstatic with the new commerce Tesla has brought with it.

          • AaronD12

            Really? I would think gas stations wouldn’t put things like “pay at the pump” if they wanted people to come inside and purchase snacks. Seems counter-intuitive.

          • GregS

            Ask any gas station owner, and they’ll tell you the money is in the store not from gas sales. The pay at the pump thing is just convenience, and helps to speed up customers.

          • Rick Danger

            If the auto companies looked at chargers as *advertisements*, which the big branded Tesla superchargers certainly are, then they wouldn’t have to make them pay in the traditional sense. They could use some of the millions they piss away in TV ads every year and build a nationwide network. The more EVs there are to charge at those stalls, the more effective the advertising is.

          • Steve Hanley

            Absolutely correct, sir!

  • Len

    I bought a used Leaf to test the EV waters and I’m definitely not going back to gasoline. Infact, my wife who is very frugal and doesn’t believe in buying new cars. and was skeptical about the Leaf keeps reminding me to put money down on a Tesla on the thirty first, she’s even considering a model X. The reason for a Tesla is they look nice the range and charging infrastructure.


    The infrastructure is not the trouble its people do not try the cars. I have a volt 2015, 2013 C-MAX ENERGI and 2013 Ford Focus Electric I love everyone of them. Will never own just a gas only car. People need to drive them. Use the C-MAX ENERGI for long trips,It gets 27 to 30 miles ev, then hybrid from there. Volt 50 miles ev then gas . Ford focus electric 110 miles all city ev only. It cost 15 to 20 dollars total a month to drive all three cars all electric 240 volt chargers. Will never have a all gas car again.

    • Steve Hanley

      Couldn’t agree more, Robert. People who don’t like electric cars have never TRIED an electric car. IMHO, manufacturers do an exceedingly poor job of introducing potential customers to this revolutionary new technology.

      We all are hesitant to get outside our comfort zone. The manufacturers need to do MUCH more to break down the perceived barriers to electric car ownership.

      Thanks for your comment.


        I agree with your comment, thank you for your return. Bob

  • AaronD12

    There aren’t enough EVs on the road, so let’s not build chargers. There aren’t enough chargers available, so let’s not buy EVs.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.