Mercedes announced at the Consumer Electronics Show trade fair in Las Vegas this week that it wants to work with partners to build a network of more than 10,000 fast-charging stations for electric vehicles in a selection of key markets by the end of the decade.
It aims for a network of more than 10,000 stations in the United States, Canada, Europe, China and other key markets.
In the United States, it will partner with the MN8 Energy company. CEO Ola Källenius said Mercedes was still seeking partners for similar ventures in Europe and China.
"This is another building block on our strategic journey," Källenius said at the CES trade fair, alluding to the company's efforts to start making more electric vehicles.
Källenius said Mercedes hoped that the charging network would help people overcome any concerns about switching to electric vehicles.
"We do not want to watch and wait until it is built. That is why we are building our own global fast-charging network," he said.
Mercedes plans to make the charging stations available to drivers of any car, albeit with some preferential conditions for Mercedes drivers, such as priority treatment and the ability to reserve a spot.
Echoes of Tesla's Supercharger network
The idea seems inspired in no small part by Tesla's network of what it calls "Superchargers," which the company recently started to open up to non-Tesla drivers in the US and elsewhere, provided those drivers have the right conversion cable.
Mercedes and MN8 were sharing the initial investment costs of roughly $1 billion (€950 million) in the United States evenly, according to the companies. They envisage a network of more than 400 charging parks with around 2,500 high-powered chargers. Källenius of Mercedes said his company estimated the costs of establishing a global network to be well under $10 billion.
Mercedes argues that the plans will not be reliant on subsidies and that the venture should become profitable within five to seven years. Nevertheless, in the United States, the company plans to investigate whether its project would qualify for assistance as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, a great deal of which is focused on boosting the green economy and other infrastructure projects that do not have a very obvious connection to reducing inflation.
From filling stations to charging stations — rapid infrastructure revamp required
The availability of fast-charging stations is seen as one key way to alleviate consumer concerns about switching to electric vehicles. Battery life and recharging times can render electric vehicles unsuitable for long-distance travel, particularly if it's not possible to recharge the car at a high speed on the roadside rather than the much slower pace from an ordinary electric socket.
The electric car market has been growing more slowly in the United States than in Europe, probably partly because a higher frequency of US road users regularly travel on what in more densely populated Europe would be considered a long-distance journey.
The infrastructure is still somewhat nascent, and estimates suggest that vast investment will be necessary quite rapidly if Western countries' plans to switch almost entirely to electric vehicles in the coming years are to be realized.
A report by consultancy firm McKinsey recently estimated that Europe would need as many as 3.4 billion fast-charging points by 2030, when the EU plans to halt the sale of new entirely petrol or diesel cars. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) estimates roughly twice as many again.
Källenius said on Thursday in Las Vegas that he was optimistic about supply meeting this sharp predicted increase in demand. He said he expected several other actors, including the fossil fuel companies that dominate the current network of fuel stations for motorists, to start investing heavily in the infrastructure.
VW and its Audi and Porsche subsidiaries have similar plans for rapid construction of new fast-charging stations, aiming to open up roughly 45,000 new sites by 2025.
msh/aw (dpa, Reuters)