Setting up charging infrastructure is widely considered a major hurdle to the rollout of mainstream electric cars, but aspiring industry leader Volkswagen considers it a problem that will take care of itself as supply grows to meet demand.
It may seem like Economics 101, but the German company’s view is that as electric cars grow ever more affordable and offer longer driving ranges between charges, their popularity will climb and yield entrepreneurial pushes into the fast-charge market, either with plug-in stations or public induction charging pads.
“It’s a stimulating role that we have, to get this started,” Volkswagen AG board member Jurgen Stackmann told Australian media last week, but added that the job of supplying infrastructure would not fall to car brands (a contrary view to Tesla).
“In the end [charging] is a business that will find itself, when the industry is shifting to electric in a big way, there will be a demand for charging, and there will be business in charging. Very simple.
“We’ve seen this in countries like Norway. We’ve taken the entire board to Norway to talk to customers and governments. This is creating a new economy,” he added. Norway has huge EV penetration.
However, we would point out that Norway’s government offers subsidies to encourage EV take-up, and history would suggest that growth will be created by a combination of cheaper EVs, and a friendlier buyer environment alike.
Nevertheless, Stackmann says charging infrastructure even in countries like Australia will establish itself once demand exists, and will be abetted by surveys that suggest it need not be as substantive as you might think. This even applies to regional customers.
“I don’t think infrastructure in metropolitan zones, like Melbourne or Sydney, will be a problem, I think the problem is connectivity along the long lines,” he said.
“[But] we’ve done a simulation for Europe, it’s quite amazing, probably 450 fast charging points can cover Europe… Even countries like Australia, being continents, can be covered with limited amount.
"It sounds very limited, but you don’t need a fast charger every 15-20km, what you do need is setups in major centres at every 150km distances. Fast charging becomes a key requirement — anything between 20-30 minutes — going forward.”
Naturally, even these increments won’t help people living in places such as Nullarbor Town or Fitzroy Crossing, though it’s safe to say that 500km-plus EV ranges and appropriate infrastructure can cover key cities and regional centres easily enough.
“What we see going forward is a full electric range of 460km-plus basically gives you everything at once… and it will be a non-question mark mobility answer,” Stackmann added.
For its part, Volkswagen plans to sell one million EVs each year from 2025, and will launch a brand new model by 2020 with a 600km range, priced the same as a diesel Golf. This car was previewed last week in Paris by the I.D concept, which uses inductive wireless charging.
“Do you need a price below a Golf diesel?” Stackmann asked. “We are selling the majority of our cars [at this level]. Volkswagen is not an entry-level pure car. We are a company that sells superior quality at great value-for-money, but we’re not the cheapest car around.
“If we get to Golf diesel levels in 3.5 years with normal equipment levels, we will hit the sweet spot of many customers around the globe.”