Ford and German Automakers Plan European Fast-Charging Network for Electric Vehicles

The three top German automakers and Ford (F)  will collaborate on a European "fast-charging" network for battery-powered electric vehicles, the latest sign of accelerating acceptance of EVs by the global industry.

The automakers said they will set up a joint venture to build 400 chargers in the first stage of the project and by 2020 "thousands" across the continent. The chargers will use a 350-kilowatt DC standard, called a combined charging system, which enhances existing standards.

Two automakers noticeably absent from the group were General Motors'  (GM) Opel subsidiary, which plans soon to begin selling a U.S.-made Ampera EV, and French automaker Renault, which pioneered the EV category with its Leaf EV. Neither automaker provided immediate comment.

"The availability of high-power stations allows long-distance electric mobility for the first time and will convince more and more customers to opt for an electric vehicle," said Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler  (DDAIF) , the maker of Mercedes-Benz and Smart.

EV sales in developed countries have been modest due to the initial higher costs to consumers for the vehicles, even with government subsidies, and concerns about the effective operating range between charges. Lighter, cheaper batteries that can store more energy have improved performance on the newest EV models, such as the Ampera, soon to be sold in the U.S. as the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Charging stations also will make EVs more practical for urban dwellers living in high-rise buildings who often lack convenient access to a conventional electric outlet. BMW this week was reported to be revamping its slow-selling i3 EV.

The members of Europe's new fast-charging venture no doubt have watched Tesla  (TSLA) , the maker of the Model S and Model X EVs that currently operates 744 supercharger stations with 4,703 superchargers.

According to Tesla's website, adding 100 miles of range from a 48-amp wall charger at home takes nearly three hours and costs about $4 worth of electricity. Using a 72-amp wall charger, the time goes down to about two hours. A supercharger reduces the time needed to about 15 minutes.

Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, said a reliable, ultra-fast charging infrastructure "is important for mass consumer adoption and has the potential to transform the possibilities for electric driving."

Previously, German automakers had been relying on diesel technology and conventional gasoline engines to meet increasingly stringent European fuel-efficiency standards. After Volkswagen's (VLKAY) emission cheating scandal in the U.S., VW has retreated from the technology for consumers, while other automakers are rethinking their plans for diesel.

Cities increasingly are worried about congestion and air pollution, another advantage that EVs could bring to future mobility plans for crowded urban areas.

Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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