BMW unveils cheaper, suitcase-sized EV charger

The chargers will cost $6,500 for companies that partner with BMW.
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WASHINGTON -- BMW Group, which sees rapid recharging as key to the success of its new BMW i3 electric vehicle, said today that it has helped develop a less expensive charger the size of a small suitcase that could help create a nationwide charging network.

By making its quick chargers available at a discount, BMW is encouraging third-party companies to step in and set up a system similar to Tesla’s nationwide Supercharger network. But unlike Tesla’s chargers, which are exclusively available to Tesla owners, the BMW-branded chargers also can be used to recharge EVs made by competitors such as Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Volkswagen AG.

“Our focus is on getting as many DC fast chargers out there as possible, but the cost has been a hindrance,” Robert Healey, EV infrastructure manager at BMW of North America, said in an interview. “We want to remove every perceived barrier for our potential customers. We want to ensure that customers see these chargers.”

The new 24-kilowatt charger was designed by supplier Bosch Automotive Service Solutions with an investment from BMW. The charger can recharge the lithium ion batteries in the i3, which has an estimated range of 72 miles on electric power, to about 80 percent full within half an hour.

One of these chargers will cost $6,500 for companies that partner with BMW, compared with about $30,000 for current fast chargers, Healey said before the charger’s unveiling today at an EV conference in San Jose, Calif.

BMW plans to offer free charging to i3 drivers through 2015 at NRG eVgo stations in California.

While current quick chargers are usually as tall as an adult male and weigh more than 1,500 pounds, BMW’s charger weighs about 100 pounds -- light enough for it to be mounted on the wall of a building or a parking garage.

The first ones will be sold in August to BMW dealers. The automaker said that 285 of its 340 U.S. dealers have signed on as BMW i dealers.

BMW’s charger uses the SAE standardized combo plug, which also has backing from GM, Ford, Chrysler Group, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG and VW Group. The only current model besides the i3 to offer fast charging using the combo plug is the Chevrolet Spark, but others are expected in the coming years.

Japanese automakers such as Mitsubishi and Nissan use a different fast charger plug known as CHAdeMO. Many fast charging stations will offer CHAdeMO chargers alongside SAE chargers such as those offered by Bosch and BMW.

BMW is trying to set up partnerships with third-party companies to set up a charging network. Its vision differs from that of Tesla, which operates 103 of its Supercharger stations in North America, 42 in Europe and 9 in Asia. The 120-kilowatt chargers allow a Model S sedan to travel an estimated 170 miles after a half-hour of charging.

Cliff Fietzek, manager of connected eMobility at BMW of North America, said the company does not want to run its own charger network.

“It’s not our role,” Fietzek said. “We don’t want to own infrastructure. We want to support the rollout and we’re heavily supporting partnerships but we don’t want to be the network operator like Tesla, for example.”

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.


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