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‘China to lead Asia in charging EVs’

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Government-led programme easing investments in charging infrastructure for electric vehicles: BMW

China is poised to become the first country outside Europe and the U.S. to roll out a wide charging network for electric vehicles, with heavy ongoing investments in the infrastructure under its government-led programme, a senior executive of German automaker BMW said.

Leading automakers and technology companies such as Tesla are preparing to ramp up electric vehicle (EV) production over the next few years, making availability of batteries and charging infrastructure a key element to scale up e-mobility.

Pursuing an ambitious plan to expand its range of EVs, BMW will launch 25 electrified models until 2025, of which 12 will be fully electric. It currently has the wholly electric i3 on the market (U.S. price: $44,450 onwards), and has sold 100,000 electric cars, including hybrids.

Reviewing the roadmap for electromobility, Peter Schwarzenbauer, member of the board of management of BMW told The Hindu in Bogota, Colombia, recently that the car industry had achieved agreement on the socket technology, while the charging stations could be of different kinds. The BMW executive was in Colombia’s capital for the One Young World conference on youth leadership.

Tesla, the U.S. company manufacturing electric cars, for instance, has decided to go its own way on building charging facilities. BMW embarked “very early” in this direction putting up 65,000 charging stations in 29 countries using a single card called “ChargeNow” to provide access, he said.

“When you buy an i3, we offer you membership of the ChargeNow family. You get access just like a telecommunication roaming system with one card. We are working with other manufacturers on [developing] high-speed charging systems across Europe, and have invested in Chargepoint, a U.S. company which is pushing the infrastructure in the U.S.,” Mr. Schwarzenbauer said.

In his view, by 2025, the discussion would not be on infrastructure as that would have been resolved in Western Europe and the U.S.

Maturity level

Asked how he assessed the maturity level of electric vehicles today on a scale of 100, Mr. Schwarzenbauer said the technology would score 25.

The BMW group is entering its second phase in this area. “We are in our first phase of electromobility, and have so far sold 100,000 electrified cars. This year we are going to do 100,000 cars. This includes hybrids,” he said.

Electric cars, however, are totally dependent on batteries. The European Commission had said last week it was holding discussions with industry, financial institutions and member states, on developing a full battery chain in the EU to ensure its competitiveness. The technology, however, is evolving, and the range (the distance covered by a vehicle on a single charge) is expected to go up from the present 300 km to 500-600 km.

This would take several years. “But you can see the speed [of development] within battery technology, that it is very likely to have a range of 500 km in the next few years,” the BMW executive said. Although there is keen interest in manufacturing batteries in Europe, given the changing nature of technology, BMW has taken note of the uncertainties when considering fresh investments, he said.

‘Cautious on batteries’

“I am not sure that the battery we are talking about today, will be the same in 2025. Why would you invest in a battery technology today, which might not be the same in seven, eight or nine years,” Mr. Schwarzenbauer said. BMW, therefore, buys the best available batteries on the market, and pairs them with its own power packaging know-how.

Electric car prices are also expected to conform to the trend in other technologies: the more the volume, the more the price decline. BMW expects battery prices will come down. Asked how the company viewed India’s move to invest in electric buses, he said it is looking at infrastructure projects in general.

“We are now concentrating on where we are selling the biggest volume of our electric cars, and we are focused on helping the building of infrastructure.” India had earlier announced a goal of selling only electric vehicles by 2030.

On the future for fossil fuels, Mr. Schwarzenbauer predicted a “time of confusion” between 2020 and 2030. But as a society, it would not be possible to transform the entire system to electric. The meeting point between one ramp going up and the other going down, and when it is likely to fully change, is impossible to predict, he said.

Manufacturing efficiency

Would it be better to develop electric vehicles on a new platform rather than on an existing one for conventional cars? Mr. Schwarzenbauer said BMW is adopting a different route. “We decided to invest in all our factories around the world, preparing them so that we can produce, on the same [production] line, an internal combustion car and an electric car.”

“You cannot say as a company that from 2023 we will be fully electric. It might kill you. You have to have the flexibility,” he said.

On the policy shift to electric vehicles, if every country worldwide does exactly the same thing, internal combustion engines would be over by 2030. “Right now, there is no battery capacity installed to deliver all the batteries for all the cars we would need to fulfil. We are not seeing around the world that kind of investment in battery companies, that we really could be sure that we could fulfil this demand,” he said.

BMW is also preparing for reuse of electric car batteries, which may not be good enough for automobiles, but are perfectly good as a static store of power.

“Our idea is to reuse the batteries. We are testing this with several companies. We are working to address the question [of environmental sustainability],” Mr. Schwarzenbauer said. A battery storage farm for power will open in Leipzig, Germany at the end of October, initially reusing batteries from test cars. A test conducted jointly with power company Vattenfall confirmed the potential of batteries for stationary electricity storage.

On autonomous (driverless) cars, Mr. Schwarzenbauer said the capability of the technology and the likelihood of its implementation should be viewed separately. “We are capable on the technology front, able to deliver autonomous cars by 2021.

“But we don’t think in 2021 — and we are talking of robot cars that can drive without a driver — you will see many running in cities around the world. You can see in certain cities, areas with restricted autonomous driving.”

“Robots are like young drivers and need experience, which will be available in such areas, to achieve 100% perfection,” he said.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 7:19:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/china-to-lead-asia-in-charging-evs/article19862017.ece

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