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BMW's Supercharger Plan -- Tesla Not Included

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Thursday I made the case for BMW striking a deal with Tesla (TSLA - Get Report) for the purpose of getting access to the Tesla superchargers.

Near the end I wrote: "This is only one scenario. There are other scenarios. Perhaps BMW could not stand Tesla's terms and is proceeding along a different route. Perhaps BMW will partner with some other entity that will help it build their versions of superchargers. That is also a possibility."

The purpose of this article is to describe the rationale for what I think is the more likely path for BMW. Let’s start with the weakest link in the BMW-Tesla supercharger sharing argument.

In the U.S. and Europe, Tesla’s superchargers are placed mostly along the rural freeways connecting the cities. They may be spaced 100-200 miles apart. They enable you to drive from California to New York, so these are long stretches across the fruited plains.

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The fundamental problem for BMW to bother with this network right now, is that neither BMW nor any other automaker has a car that fits this network’s layout. BMW has an exotic plug-in electric car that can handle long-distance travel, the i8, but it does so by using an on-board gasoline generator. The smaller BMW i3 is available with an optional gasoline generator, but it only has a two gallon gasoline tank, making long-distance travel impractical.

Looking at the BMW i3 without the gasoline generator, however, it only has a rated average range of 81 miles. Freeway driving at normal 70-80 mph speeds would likely yield meaningfully less than that.

The point here is this: Even if BMW somehow got access to Tesla’s superchargers, the BMW i3 would be essentially useless for this purpose. Most certainly, BMW has somewhere in development one or more cars that could fit Tesla’s current supercharger requirements, from a topology standpoint -- but those are likely two to three years away from making it to market.

As such, it would simply be premature for BMW to get involved with Tesla’s supercharging network at this time. This does not exclude the possibility that it could happen in the coming years, but it seems unlikely right now.

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