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Exclusive: Premium brands plan EV charge network

Charge ahead: A fast-charging network would benefit EVs arriving in showrooms in the coming years such as the Jaguar I-Pace.

Commercialised fast-charging EV network could be coming soon to Australia

22 Aug 2017

SEVERAL premium automotive brands in Australia are planning to develop a joint, commercialised fast-charging network for electrified vehicles in response to Tesla’s ‘Supercharger’ network and the federal government’s inaction on future mobility infrastructure.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) Australia managing director Matthew Wiesner has revealed to GoAuto that the company is now part of a group prepared to take matters into their own hands given the government’s refusal to expand beyond general discussions about the need for infrastructure as electric vehicles become more prevalent in Australia.

“We have both state and federal governments uninformed and disinterested in the future of what the industry will be delivering to drive their requirements in regards to emissions production, and smarter EVs,” Mr Wiesner told GoAuto at the unveiling of the Range Rover Velar in Sydney earlier this month.

“It’s embarrassing, they (federal government) are basing their current planning of various infrastructure projects and building requirements – commercial, residential and retail-based – on rules that exist today or in the past, which basically don’t apply for where we’re going in the future.

“We don’t write policy we can’t deliver legislation. But at the same time we need to be looking deeply into how we’re planning to make the whole situation better in the future. So how do we then, as an industry, regulate ourselves and fund infrastructure that’s going to be required for the future.”

Mr Wiesner said the federal government and bodies such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) were placing pressure on manufacturers to improve retail practices and vehicle emissions – which he labelled “fair enough” – however when brands were ready to launch EVs onto the market, ministers were nowhere to be seen to discuss their implementation.

BMW has already launched its i3 EV, Audi and Jaguar will follow next year with the Q6 E-Tron and I-Pace mid-size SUVs respectively, and Mercedes-Benz will introduce its own EV SUV rival in 2019 based on last year’s Generation EQ concept.

Given that EVs are starting to arrive in local dealerships on a broad scale, Mr Wiesner indicated that the time was up for debating with governments about infrastructure, with several brands now in discussion with the EV Council and other commercial entities about creating a national EV fast-recharge network.

Mr Wiesner gave a nod to the Queensland state government for its announcement last month of a rollout of a fast-charging network that will stretch from the Gold Coast to Cairns, but the 18-site $3 million state investment still leaves New South Wales and Victoria without EV ‘refuelling’ sites.

“So we’re working on a plan at the moment with the other manufacturers and some others about an infrastructure funding program to put charging infrastructure through New South Wales and Victoria,” Mr Wiesner said.

“At least you’re connected up with Queensland and then you have an east-coast coverage, which is obviously a damn sight better than what we have today. It’s not specifically owned by anyone in particular, it’s a charging network so charging as in commercially focused, monetised charging network people will pay to charge.

“That will at least enable those that are buying these (EV) products, they have some sort of connection to Queensland and Melbourne. It still leaves a vast amount of country that is still, quite frankly, not covered by all that, but hopefully as this continues to move forward others will get on board and ultimately demand will decide when and where those structures will come into play.”

Currently only Tesla has rolled out its own charging network nationwide, and the brand’s local division confirmed it has not had discussions with other manufacturers about investment into another EV fast-charging network.

The local public relations departments of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz did, however, confirm interest in the project.

Audi Australia corporate communications manager Anna Burgdorf said the brand was “evaluating all of those opportunities at the moment” including potential for sharing the investment with brands soon to launch EVs.

“I think that more EVs in general will create a groundswell, and that’s a positive thing, but what would make sense is if there is charging infrastructure that a number of manufacturers can use,” Ms Burgdorf told GoAuto.

“We’d like to see efficiencies across the network, and certainly owners can charge their vehicles at home and that’s not an issue. But what will slow down the progress of these cars is if people are nervous when they’re travelling and they’re not able to recharge.

“So a charging network that is available to a number of brands would be an excellent way of seeing this technology come to Australia. We understand that customers might be a little bit hesitant to wade into fully electric vehicles … so effectively we’re very keen to see it happen as soon as possible.”

GoAuto understands that while discussions are taking place at EV Council meetings, the plan was not being directed by the national body for EVs.

“There is quite a lot of conversation going on between the EV Council, its members and various parties that may have input or an interest in this area, whether that be energy suppliers or government or legal bodies,” BMW Australia corporate communications manager Lenore Fletcher confirmed.

“There’s certainly a lot of discussion around this because we are facing the imminent arrival of quite a number of electric vehicles. The investment has been made by the manufacturers, and it’s another case of the technology being ahead of the legislation.”

However, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy said the commercialised EV fast-charge network project was still in its embryonic stages.

“There’s a lot of discussion, we’re absolutely interested but there’s no commitment from us at the moment,” he said.

“I think obviously there’s going to need to be something like a tender process for suppliers, we need to decide whether we’re part of it or not in terms of putting money in, so it’s still early days. But in the absence of government doing anything, yes (we are interested).

“We may well as a brand contribute to it, we may not, we need to see some more figures and business plans.”

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