BMW Building Charging Network To Rival Tesla

2014 Pebble Beach Concours BMW Press Conference.

Last July, BMW introduced a DC charger that weighs only 100 lbs, is just 24″ high and 17″ wide and can deliver an 80% charge in 30 minutes. It’s low weight and small size mean it can be conveniently mounted almost anywhere. Other DC chargers are as large as a refrigerator and can cost more than $50,000.

Jacob Harb, the head of electric vehicle sales and strategy for BMW of North America, called the new charger a “game changer” in a recent interview with AutoGuide and adds, “2015 is the year of infrastructure.”  He says next year BMW will “proliferate those charging stations everywhere.”

BMW is naturally interested in expanding the EV charging infrastructure, so customers considering a BMW i3 or i8 will feel they can drive their cars anywhere. It is possible to drive a Tesla coast to coast today, but only via a limited number of routes. BMW wants its owners to be able to take a detour through Pocatello or South Succotash if they want to.

Infrastructure is the key to the battle between EVs and fuel cell vehicles. Right now, hydrogen seems to have an advantage because an FCEV can go 300 miles or more on a tankful as opposed to 80 miles or so for a typical EV. But there are so few hydrogen refueling stations, most of them in southern California, that an FCEV owner dare not drive more than 150 miles away from the nearest one.

There is a tug of war going on between established auto makers and upstart Tesla. Even though Tesla says anyone can use its patented recharging technology, no one has accepted the offer. The issue is not getting the electricity from the charger to the battery. The issue is the shape of the plug and standardizing the low voltage control network that prevents the car from being moved while connected and keeps the charger informed about the status of the battery.

The BMW charger uses an SAE standard plug that fits every other electric car except for Tesla and Nissan. Resolving this conflict is critical. Just imagine how chaotic the auto industry would be if you could only fill up your Ford F-150 at a Ford sponsored gas station?

Ultimately, one system will prevail and rule the marketplace. BMW thinks its system will be the winner, but it may still work with Telsa down the road…you know, just in case.

BMW Charger Plug

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.