Car manufacturers to power Europe with e-charging network

Hybdrid and all-electric cars remain little-used in Europe, hobbled by high prices, the short range of the vehicles and a lack of recharging infrastructure (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

Frankfurt am Main (AFP) - German carmakers BMW, Daimler, Porsche and Audi and US competitor Ford said on Tuesday they would cooperate on a Europe-wide network of electric charging stations.

The move is an "important step towards facilitating mass-market battery electric vehicle adoption", the manufacturers said in a joint statement, and comes as German carmakers rev up their offers of electric cars for the coming years.

"We intend to create a network that allows our customers on long-distance trips to use a coffee break for recharging," Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler said.

The firms have signed a memorandum of understanding on the joint venture and plan to begin construction of some 400 high-speed charging stations across Europe in 2017.

Completion of the network is slated for 2020.

Hybrid and all-electric cars from any manufacturer using the Combined Charging System (CCS) standard will be able to use the stations, in a move aimed at boosting growth of electric car use on the continent.

German carmakers have lagged behind some competitors when it comes to introducing electric models.

The technology remains little-used in Europe, hobbled by high prices, the short range of the vehicles and a lack of recharging infrastructure.

But recent months have seen a fresh commitment from the industry, a pillar of Europe's largest economy, to speed up the introduction of electric cars.

Audi and Porsche parent Volkswagen announced this month that it aims to sell one million electric vehicles per year by 2025.

VW sees non-polluting technology as a chance to clean its tarnished reputation, after it admitted in September 2015 to installing software designed to cheat regulatory emissions tests on 11 million diesel-powered cars worldwide.

Meanwhile, higher-end manufacturers like BMW and Daimler, which owns Mercedes, face a challenge from newcomers like Tesla, which has a head start in autonomous driving as well as electric power.

Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche was a surprise keynote speaker at the German Green Party conference this year, and has promised 10 new all-electric models in the next few years.

BMW has so far limited its electric ambitions to its BMWi range.

This year the Munich-based manufacturer said it would go further, with plans to offer an all-electric version of its iconic Mini by 2019 and a BMW X3 4x4 by 2020.

Beyond Tesla, German carmakers fear being overtaken by new home-grown competitors in China, which remains a major market.

Chinese plans to introduce a quota system -- which would require a share of vehicles produced in the country to be all-electric -- prompted complaints from German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel ahead of a visit to Beijing last month.

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