SHANGHAI – For nearly a decade, Chinese companies, led by state-owned power grid operators, have invested heavily in the country’s EV charging infrastructure.
Yet for carmakers serious about tapping the growing EV market, they’ve come to realize they must assume a greater role in building a robust charging network, rather than counting on fast-expanding public charging sites.
Most existing public charging facilities in China are problematic, as Volkswagen Group’s China unit disclosed at a press briefing last week.
According to VW China’s market research, some 800,000 public charging poles had been installed across the country by the end of 2020.
But about 30 percent are unusable due to lack of maintenance or outdated technology, the company said, drawing on new testing results.
Alternating-current poles, which are slow to charge EVs compared with direct-direct poles, accounted for 80 percent of the total sites tested.
In addition, up to 30 percent of all public charging poles were routinely occupied by conventional vehicles.
Taking all these factors into consideration, VW China estimates that the number of public charging poles that can really serve EV users is less than 300,000.
VW China’s research also shows that around 40 percent of EV owners in China cannot install private charging facilities because most of them live in apartment buildings.
That has created an acute need for automakers to build charging facilities for EV customers in public places.
VW China has teamed up with its EV production joint venture, Jianghuai Automobile Co., and major private EV charging service provider StarCharge to construct 6,000 charging poles and 500 charging stations in eight major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
It plans to install some 17,000 charging poles with the two partners in Chinese cities by 2025.
VW is not the only automaker accelerating the installation of EV charging facilities.
As of January, Tesla had built 730 charging stations in more than 300 Chinese cities. Of that number, more than 410 were built in 2020, according to its EV charging unit in China.
Nio, a leading Chinese EV startup, had installed 192 battery-swap stations and more than 1,700 charging poles across China. It aims to hike the two numbers to 500 and 15,000 by the end of this year, Nio founder and Chairman Li Bin said at an investor conference this month.
China’s EV market, already the world’s biggest, is still growing at a breathtaking speed.
The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers predicted in January that annual sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids will surge 32 percent to 1.8 million in 2021.
But given problematic public charging infrastructure, carmakers seeking to effectively tap consumer demand will still have to shoulder the task of building charging facilities for EV buyers in the foreseeable future.