When compared with the ubiquity of filling stations, charging infrastructure for electric vehicles remains in a relative infancy. Network coverage and availability differ heavily between manufacturers and brands, and although established names have entered into partnerships and other agreements to expand access, on average, it remains easier, faster, and more convenient to fill your tank with gasoline or diesel fuel than to achieve a full state of charge in an electric vehicle.
Having been involved with various aspects of charging infrastructure for over a decade, the BMW Group is aware of the shortcomings, and has made addressing them a management priority. The ultimate goal is for charging to become more convenient than filling up a tank, and BMW is focusing on three main points: availability everywhere, ease of use, and a high level of cost transparency.
Recently, BMW released an interview of sorts with three BMW Group board members, to get their thoughts on charging infrastructure. The board members included Ilka Horstmeier, who oversees Human Resources and labor relations, Pieter Nota, responsible for customer, brands, and sales, and Dr. Nicolas Peter, who oversees finance. The interview covers how BMW is approaching the issue of charging, where the advantages and potential lie, and what role charging should play in the continuing ramp-up of electromobility. The full text of the interview appears below.—Alex Tock
Q: The BMW Group recently handed over its one-millionth electrified vehicle to its new owner. One aspect that is inextricably linked with the ramp-up of electromobility is charging infrastructure. What is your opinion of this?
Peter: Right now, charging infrastructure is failing to keep pace with sales of electrified vehicles. That is why we urgently need rapid infrastructure expansion – especially in urban, densely populated areas and over longer distances. This is also up to policymakers: Economical operation must be ensured – and, if possible, promoted – especially while infrastructure is still in the expansion phase. Who’s going to build a second charging post if the first one can’t cover its costs? But, in the long run, the market has to be able to regulate itself in the interests of the customer. What we need for this are clear objectives and incentive systems. The same applies to fleet operators, to support their transition to electromobility.
Q: Can this be achieved by building infrastructure quickly? Or are there other obstacles?
Horstmeier: Focusing on rapid construction won’t be enough in some areas. We will clearly need a lot of public charging points in the near future to meet growing demand. But, above all else, customers need easy access to as many charging points as possible – with attractive terms and conditions across the board.
Nota: Charging should be an enabler for electromobility – and this is precisely where our BMW Charging and MINI Charging services come in. Our customers can use a card or an app to access more than 250,000 public charging points across Europe.
Q: 250,000 sounds like a lot of charging points. But what about “range anxiety”? What percentage of publicly accessible charging posts does your service even include?
Nota: With BMW Charging and MINI Charging, we have a network coverage of 90 percent* in Europe. In other words, you can use nine out of ten publicly accessible charging points with our card. In the top five electromobility markets, we are even up to 95 percent*. This makes charging easy and convenient for our customers wherever they go. There’s no “range anxiety” with us.
Q: But there’s still the question of price. Critics claim prices at the charging post vary greatly, depending on the operator, and are not clearly posted for the customer.
Nota: We ensure full cost transparency: With our award-winning Active Tariff, customers pay a basic monthly fee to charge their vehicle at an attractive market-specific fixed rate. In Germany, the basic monthly fee is five euros; AC charging then costs 33 cent/kWh and rapid DC charging 39 cents/kWh. Our prices are geared towards the price for mains electricity. Customers can also buy the IONITY Plus package as an add-on: For a basic monthly fee of 13 euros, they are able to charge their vehicle for 35 cents/kWh directly along the motorway. For customers who buy a new fully-electric BMW, we waive the basic fee for Active Tariff and IONITY Plus for one year.
Q: One aspect of charging that is often criticised is that it takes longer than filling up the tank. What do you say to that?
Peter: Charging is already a lot more convenient – when our customers can charge at home. I can confirm this from my own experience. I’ve driven a BMW i3 that I hook up to my wallbox at home for several years now. Every morning, I get into a fully charged vehicle. That’s why we offer our customers a variety of home-charging solutions, as well as installation service and a green electricity tariff. With us, you get everything from a single source.
Q: Are there other possibilities, apart from public charging and home charging?
Horstmeier: Workplace charging: Your car’s parked there, anyway, during the day. This is also a lot more convenient than filling up the tank: After all, what employer has its own filling station for staff? The BMW Group has one of the largest company charging networks in Germany. We have come a long way in 2021: We now have more than 5,000 charging points in service and over 1,000 charging points that are eRoaming-capable: This means they can also be used by other electric-vehicle drivers – so the general public also benefits from our company charging network.
Q: And what does it look like on the international front?
Horstmeier: We have already begun with the rollout. In Europe alone, over 1,100 more charging points will be added by the end of 2022. Our BMW branches and partners at our retail outlets are also expanding their on-site charging facilities in stages.
Q: Let’s come back to the time aspect of charging. Short and medium distances don’t seem to be a problem, but what about longer trips, where, in comparison, charging is clearly a disadvantage?
Peter: Our IONITY high-power charging network – which we founded in 2017, along with other manufacturers – ensures convenient electromobility over longer distances. We recently stepped up our commitment to IONITY and have invested 700 million euros, together with the existing shareholders and new investor BlackRock. This will speed up expansion of the high-power charging network significantly. By 2025, the IONITY network will have around 7,000 charging points.
Nota: Our BMW Charging services also make it easy and convenient to use IONITY high-power charging points. With the BMW i4, you can charge a range of more than 160 kilometres in ten minutes. You just plug in your car and go for a cup of coffee while it charges. We see tremendous potential for the future in this area.
Q: If I’m a customer wanting to charge my car, how do I go about finding a suitable charging point?
Nota: Charging is fully integrated into the digital ecosystem. I can locate and select available charging points in the car’s navigation system. I can also use the “my BMW” and “my MINI” app to plan my route and find suitable charging points. While driving from A to B, I then select the “charging-optimised route”. My vehicle calculates the available range, based on various factors, such as weather, speed and traffic conditions, and recommends suitable charging points.
Q: And which processes run in the background?
Peter: Two companies we have been involved with for years are key to easy, wide-scale access to public charging points: Hubject and Digital Charging Solutions GmbH (DCS). Both of these will play a key role in the continuing ramp-up of electromobility.
Q: In what way?
Peter: They both link up individual charging points to create a comprehensive network for our customers. Hubject runs an international roaming platform that aggregates different operators’ charging points. This platform forms a basis that allows customers to find and use different operators’ charging posts in different countries – even those of small local providers in fragmented markets –with a single card.
Q: And what is the role of Digital Charging Solutions?
Peter: DCS operates at the interface to the customer. It aggregates the charging points of different charging post operators and provides B2C customers and others with access to them as a white-label solution. This is the basis for our BMW Charging and MINI Charging services. Other automotive manufacturers can also make this solution available to their customers under their own brand name. DCS was set up at the BMW Group at around the same time the BMW i3 was released onto the market. We soon recognised that we were doing pioneering work and decided to offer the service to other companies, as well. Today, DCS serves as an absolute enabler: Several well-known manufacturers are taking advantage of DCS’s award-winning offering. The business model is also very attractive: In 2021, bp joined the BMW Group and Daimler as the third partner, bringing in another 9,000 or so rapid charging points across Europe that will boost convenience and coverage and enhance customer benefits even further.
Q: How would you describe your approach to charging in a nutshell? And how important is this topic to your company as a whole?
Horstmeier: Charging is an interdisciplinary topic that gets a lot of attention and has become central to the company. You can tell from the fact that the Board of Management is actively involved as a team. The BMW Group takes a holistic approach to electromobility – with attractive vehicles, and products and services that make charging easy and convenient. That is why our commitment to charging extends throughout the entire value chain: from compelling products and services through strategic investments, all the way to building our own company charging infrastructure. I drive a BMW i3 and a BMW iX myself and make use of all charging options: at home and at work, as well as public charging. There are already so many benefits and possibilities. Further digitalisation and automation offer enormous potential for the future.
Q: Will you build your own exclusive public charging network for your customers in the future? Other manufacturers have already announced plans for this.
Peter: We are committed to open networks. That is the most effective way to support the ramp-up and availability of infrastructure for our customers. This also helps realise the high capacity utilisation needed to make networks profitable. Through our investment in IONITY, we are strongly involved in building a public charging network.
Horstmeier: The eRoaming-capable charging points in our company charging network are open to drivers of vehicles made by any manufacturer. In recent years, we have also set up more than 15,000 additional charging points around the world with various partners. If you look at our overall commitment to building charging infrastructure, we are at well over 20,000 charging points. This shows that we are leading by example!
Q: What can we expect from the BMW Group in the field of charging in 2022?
Nota: We have set ourselves ambitious goals for electromobility next year: We aim to more than double sales of our pure electric vehicles compared to this year. In 2022, we will be focusing on two more approaches that will make charging even more attractive. First, we will be integrating charging even more deeply into our myBMW and myMINI app. This means our customers will be able to find everything related to their vehicle in a single app – including access to public charging points. Second, we will continue to promote charging networks – which will make the charging process simpler.
Horstmeier: We will be making charging even easier and more convenient in 2022. Even with a growing number of public charging points, we plan to expand the already high coverage of more than 90 percent across Europe. We are also exploring how to make sustainability even more of a focus for public charging – for example, through voluntary carbon offsets or further integration of green electricity options. We are also paying close attention to bidirectional charging, which we believe has great potential – especially when it comes to how electric vehicles can contribute to supply reliability and the energy transition.
Peter: We want to make e-mobility even easier to use on a day-to-day basis next year – because we need that for acceptance of electric cars to continue to grow. High-quality electric vehicles speak for themselves – with their impressive performance, driving dynamics and range. Adequate charging infrastructure is the bottleneck. Once this is available, the transition to e-mobility will become even more dynamic. I am very confident this shift will take place in the near future. We see how quickly e-mobility can gain momentum in markets like China and some of our European neighbours, for instance. The important thing is: The complete package for our customers has to be right. We are committed to this.
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]