Volkswagen Leads a Massive Effort for Ubiquitous Ultra-Fast EV Charging

By · August 30, 2018

Electrify America, the Volkswagen subsidiary that formed in the wake of Dieselgate, plans to install more than 2,000 chargers across the US by the end of 2019. In a sign that the project will bring EV charging to the masses, one-thousand of the charging stations will be installed at Walmart locations. The first of those Walmart-based stations was put in place this week in Tennessee—with plans for future stations in 36 states across the country.

Most of today’s EV drivers access fast-charging stations by joining a network that issues a membership card. (See “The Ultimate Guide to Electric Car Charging Networks.”) Walmart's Electrify America EV stations take a big step toward normalizing EV charging by using a "plug-pay-charge-go" strategy. Users simply insert or swipe a credit or debit card to initiate and complete a charging event. It’s similar to how drivers of gas-powered vehicles use a traditional pump.

The Walmart charging stations will offer the familiar CHAdeMO and CCS connectors that are commonly used by EV drivers today. Those are mostly rated at 50 kilowatts—allowing drivers to add about 50 to 60 miles driving range in about 20 minutes. However, the new stations will also deploy cables and other equipment that could increase the power to 350 kilowatts. The combination of more prevalent charging stations and much faster charging times is a sign of things to come.

Meanwhile, Porsche—Volkswagen’s luxury brand—this week shared information about its faster 350-kW charging strategy. “Our power range starts at about 150 kilowatts today and extends up to 350 kilowatts,” said Michael Kiefer, director of high-voltage systems at Porsche Engineering. “We believe that everything that will be installed in the future will play out in this power range. In the public space, no one wants to have long-term parkers at the charging stations because charging takes so long. Low charging capacity is really only acceptable for charging at home.”

As with the Electrify America charging systems, Porsche wants to make the charging process as simple as possible. Drivers of a Porsche electric vehicle would use the same card to complete a charging event, regardless of which company or network manages a station. Porsche expects to start production of its Taycan EV—formerly named the Mission E—in 2019. The Taycan is one of the first electric vehicles to be equipped with a battery that’s optimized for 350-kilowatt charging. The vehicle represents a step up from the current leaders—the Tesla Model S and Model X—which utilize Tesla’s 120-kW Superchargers.

Any real (or perceived) race for ultra-quick charging is progress toward making EV refueling nearly as fast as pumping gas into an internal-combustion vehicle. Starting with the Taycan, properly equipped long-range EVs (with about 300 miles of range) could add around 240 of range in approximately 15 minutes. That technology, if it were to take hold, would make battery-powered vehicles capable of long-distance road trips with minimal inconvenience to drivers.

While Volkswagen (and other German and American carmakers) are behind many of these developments, it’s not surprising to see that Asian carmakers are also in the fast-charge race. The 2.0 version of the Japan-based CHAdeMO standard, which was released in May 2018, allows for up to a 400-kW charge. On Monday, CHAdeMO and the China Electricity Council signed a memorandum of understanding to test and deploy ultra-fast charging in China, the world’s biggest car market.

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