BMW Charging Infrastructure Discussions With Execs From LA Auto Show – Part 1


EVgo and BMW partner to bring ChargeNow DC Fast electric vehicle charging program to 25 cities nationwide. EVgo Network will have more than 600 50 kW DC Fast Combo chargers in next 2 years. BMW i3 drivers get 2 years free charging with the purchase of their vehicle (PRNewsFoto/EVgo)

EVgo and BMW partner to bring ChargeNow DC Fast electric vehicle charging program to 25 cities nationwide. EVgo Network will have more than 600 50 kW DC Fast Combo chargers in next 2 years. BMW i3 drivers get 2 years free charging with the purchase of their vehicle (PRNewsFoto/EVgo)

A few weeks ago at the LA Auto Show, BMW made news by announcing a partnership with NRG’s EVgo to install an additional 500 DC Fast Charge stations in 25 major US markets. The project is called the DC Fast Charge Expansion and is actually the second phase of a program started in 2014, which brought 100 DC fast charge stations to select California areas.

I was there at the show for Press Preview days, and had the opportunity to sit down with basically all of the top EV infrastructure managers at BMW of North America. Seated at the table were Robert Healey, Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Manager, Idine Ghoreishian, Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Specialist, and Cliff Fietzek, Manager of Connected eMobility.

Even though the news of the DC Fast Charge Expansion program had just been released, I wanted to first talk about the East and West Coast Express Charging Corridors. If you remember, this program was announced back in January at NAIAS and the press release stated that approximately 100 stations would be installed in these corridors (Washington, DC to Boston, MA on the East Coast, and San Diego, CA, to Eugene OR, on the West Coast) and it would be completed by the end of 2015.

This was a joint venture between BMW, Volkswagen and ChargePoint. ChargePoint is responsible for the installations, and BMW and VW are basically telling them where they want them, and footing the vast majority of the bill. Time is running out and I knew they wouldn’t hit the predicted deadline, so I asked the group what happened, and when can we expect it to be done. Here are some quotes from the discussion:

Rob Healey, BMW's top EV infrastructure manager

Rob Healey, BMW’s top EV infrastructure manager

50kW DC stations which are part of the West Coast Express Charging Corridor. Photo credit: Tony Williams

50kW DC stations which are part of the
West Coast Express Charging Corridor.
Photo credit: Tony Williams

When asked about why they missed the predicted end of 2015 completion date, Fietzek said:

“The business model for ChargePoint changed for this program. Before this they were responding to site hosts that wanted to have a charger installed. Basically the site host would call them, and say they wanted a charger. Now, ChargePoint had to go out and say to property owners, ‘I need to put a charger here, because BMW and Volkswagen want me to, do you want to work with us?’ This was very different from what they were accustomed to.”

Ghoreishian added:

“Another challenge of placement goes back to our goal of making sure they were no more than 50 miles apart. Seventy five miles just won’t work.”

I also learned that getting the sites in good locations was more important than just getting them in the ground and meeting a deadline. BMW knew these locations would likely be used for years to come, so it would be worth their while to take the time to make sure they got good locations. In that vein, Healey had this to say:

“There is a process in place between BMW and VW; collectively we have the final (site) approval. There were a lot of sites offered to us that we rejected. For instance, we looked at the customer and said, ‘Do you want to have your wife go in and charge in this area late at night?’ There were sites that we rejected because we didn’t think it was a safe place. We want the best sites for our customers, basically.”

I then asked if they thought BMW should finish this program before they start new infrastructure projects, like the NRG EVgo program which had just been announced and Fietzek quickly said:

“Different partners, different projects. I’d rather have them running in parallel than waiting for one to finish before starting another. We’ll get things done much faster this way.”

Cliff Fietzek, Manager of Connected eMobility for BMW of North America, stands in front of the special edition Shadow Sport i3 on display at the LA Auto Show

Cliff Fietzek, Manager of Connected eMobility for BMW of North America, stands in front of the special edition Shadow Sport i3 on display at the LA Auto Show

Finally, I asked that since it’s clear the program won’t be finished on time, when can we expect the two Express Charging Corridors to be completed, and Healey answered:

“Yeah, we’re a little delayed. We’re now shooting for early spring for completion. We always knew it was going to be tight. We sat with ChargePoint, we talked to the Volkswagen people and said, ‘Can we do this in one year?’ We knew approximately where we wanted to install the stations, but we still needed to contact the property owners, sign site host agreements, go through permitting and that just took more time than we expected. If you look at the ramp up, we started off slow, but are now really ramping up. We should have about 52 stations active by then end of the year, with another 19 already under construction. We’re looking at finishing in late March or April.”

Having personally gone through the process of installing a DC fast charger on my property in Montclair, NJ, I know the challenges that can arise during the process. I’ll actually be pretty impressed if they do finish by Spring. That would mean that they installed the 100 stations on two coasts in about 15 months, and the company doing all of the site host agreements, permitting and installations never really took on a project like this before. That’s really not bad in my opinion.

The DC Fast Charge Station I installed in Montclair, NJ. It's part of the East Coast Express Charging Corridor program

The DC Fast Charge Station I installed in Montclair, NJ. It’s part of the East Coast Express Charging Corridor program

With that progress update on the East and West Coast Express Charging Corridors finished, I turned the discussion to the announcement made just hours before, the National ChargeNow DC Fast Program. This is actually an expansion of a program started in 2014, when BMW and NRG teamed up to install 100 DC Fast chargers to select California markets. That program was completed earlier this year, and this is the second phase. There will be an additional 500 DC Fast chargers installed in 25 markets around the country.

When I asked about why they chose these specific markets, Healey said, “One of the important points of the expansion of the NRG program is that these 25 markets cover 80% of our current i3 sales. Now, we don’t want to forget about the other 20% of our customers; we’re working on it, and you’ll be hearing from us shortly about how we’re filling in the other 20%. It’s really a systematic approach.”

The 25 markets covered in this second phase of the program are:

Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Fresno, CA; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; Monterey, CA; Nashville, TN; New York, NY; Orlando, FL; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; Raleigh, NC; Sacramento, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; Santa Barbara, CA; Seattle, WA and Washington, DC.

Arun Banskota, President and CEO of NRG’s EVgo had this to say about the program:

“It is our mission to install the right charging solutions at the right places, and EV drivers have overwhelmingly told us they prefer DC Fast chargers at public spaces. Over the next 24 months EVgo will add reliable DC Fast Combo capability to what is already America’s largest DC Fast charging network. This will be the fastest and most cost effective build out of a new network ever – thanks in large part to our existing infrastructure and committed retail host partners… The only way such a massive expansion is possible is because of the purpose built, and forward looking planning behind the EVgo network…EVgo has installed infrastructure with the ability to efficiently and economically add this new DC Fast Combo standard as the number of electric vehicles have increased. EVgo owns and operates our chargers with long term agreements with premium retail hosts, and is able to provide the level of customer service, reliability, and pricing that will lead to increased EV adoption and high satisfaction among the existing base of EV drivers.”

The deployment rate of these 500 stations is expected to be aggressive. NRG is a very large company with vast resources and plenty of experience with regards to installing infrastructure. After all, they are an electric utility company. Healey told me that they have existing sites that currently have CHAdeMO stations that they’ll be adding a CCS station to, as well as many other sites already identified and ready to go. He expects to see hundreds of stations completed within the first year and the entire 500 stations in the ground and operational by mid 2018. He even said that he’s being conservative with these predictions based on the lessons learned by the previous programs they worked on, and that it is quite possible that they finish earlier than the mid 2018 prediction.

Part 2 Coming Soon

Since I had over an hour with the team, we covered a lot of infrastructure topics and there’s just too much for one post. Check back next week for part two when the discussion turns to BMW’s decision to offer free charging, but only for new i3 buyers, the future of DC charging and BMW’s long term commitment to EV infrastructure.

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33 Comments on "BMW Charging Infrastructure Discussions With Execs From LA Auto Show – Part 1"

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eVgo is being decoupled from NRG, so I don’t know about their vast resources in putting DCFC stations.

I hope BMW picks better spots for chargers, not just for local drivers, but for inter-city travel. Despite having hundreds of DCFC, it’s impossible to travel from Mexico border to San Francisco on DCFC, and San Diego to Orange county is pain in the rear; if they put some in rest stop instead of shopping malls, it would make it far easier.

Tom: You know, if the Bolt and Ford’s new FFE become even somewhat popular, drivers will need these stations. Frankly, it is not necessary that they be free, as most people will only use them occasionally. 200 mile BEV’s take away a lot of that anxiety, and having CCS availability really is a game changer. I know that to drive from my home in Bucks County, PA to your restaurant would be impossible without a QC. Or, it would be too close for comfort. Yes, you have a CCS charge station there, but I am afraid that right now, a LEAF or an I3 would not safely make it in colder weather. Place enough of these stations along I95/US1/Rte 202 the NJ Turnpike and GS Expressway and getting to North Jersey/NYC and back is a cinch. I don’t make the trip too often, but I do a few times per year. It’s no big deal in my Volt, but is a big deal in today’s <100 mile BEV's.

Don’t forget SparkEV, the quickest charging EV in the world.

Driving SparkEV in CCS rich area of SoCal, range anxiety is practically non existent. One cannot truly appreciate this until they actually experience it. Taking a detour to a restaurant by the beach is actually a reality with DCFC, something not possible without it (or without gas engine)

Free charging is far bigger problem. Almost all EV I encounter at fast chargers are those who get free charging. Without them, there will be almost no waiting.

Claiming that the Spark EV is the “quickest charging EV in the world” is a bit like saying that the i3 REx is the “quickest-to-fill gas tank in the world”. It’s true in the sense that you framed the question (do you work in marketing? 😉 ), and it sounds good until you think about what it means. I will take the Tesla any day. I won’t be crying to see the Spark EV drive away after 20 minutes. I’ll be laughing, knowing that he had to stop again in another 60 miles while I can go 200.

Did you read my post? I specifically, explicitly, boldly, early, exactly write why SparkEV is quicker. Laugh all you want while waiting an hour at DCFC with 67% utilization. I’ll happily rent gas car if I need to drive so far in rush, and save ~$50K while still using EV for most of my driving.

Hummm, seeing as Brian is somewhat familiar with the problems I’d had with my Tesla, I’m somewhat surprised at the statement, “I’d take the Tesla anyday.”.

Seems like he has convinced himself to buy a M3, sight-unseen.

Spark EV – Yes I read your post. You came up with a contrived scenario in which the Spark wins over the Tesla in terms of charging speed. It looks great on paper, but in the real world it falls apart. That Spark driver will have to stop eight times at 20 minutes each while the Tesla driver stops once for 45 minutes. I’d take the Tesla mode any day of the week.

Bill – I was just referring to the charging situation. With regards to preferring the Tesla over the Spark EV.

Regarding Model III, I love the idea but frankly I have more faith in GM’s Bolt sight-unseen than Tesla’s Model III. The Model S isn’t the picture of reliability either, yet the Spark and Volt have proven themselves to be wonderfully engineered. It’s a moot point for now because I’ll probably wait until at least two or three options are available on the used market before I upgrade my Leaf or CMax. By then we’ll have a good idea of long-term reliability.

BMW/VW is discovering the painful lesson that Tesla has been learning in that it is very difficult to find the right locations that will give you permission to install charging stations. Parking space is a very sought after commodity in a city of any size.

Well, I sure hope they put some of these along the Interstate 5 and SR 99 corridor through central California. We desperately need fast chargers along major regional routes like this. Right now it’s a wasteland.

I can’t help but see a contrast here with Tesla. Tesla built its supercharger network on major travel corridors , even where there was little or no market for its vehicles at the time. In other words, Tesla had not only a strategy, but a vision.

In contrast, all the execs interviewed here have is a strategy based on current demand. No one has a larger vision. That’s symptomatic what’s holding the legacy carmakers back and why things are happening so slowly with them. When and if a true sea change happens, few if any of them will be ready.

Nailed it!

This was my thought too. He’s putting chargers where the cars already sell instead of places that open brand new markets.

And why are they installing 50kW chargers instead of 100kW (which CCS could handle)? Sure, today’s cars could only use 50kW, but what about 3 years from now? Things are going to change very quickly and if not done right, this network could become obsolete just as quickly.

Sadly I have to agree with this. They aren’t getting customers outside that 80% area *because* there is a huge lack of DCFC there. It’s an obvious chicken and egg. Tesla said ok we’re going to put this infrastructure in FIRST to remove that concern from FUTURE sales.

I disagree. Even Tesla built superchargers in populous areas first. It’s a matter of priorities, not vision.

Put another way: these companies don’t have long range EVs and charger technology is evolving rapidly. Nobody is going to use these cars on a 500 mile road trip, charging every hour. It’s a waste to install slow chargers every 50 miles across the country when their 200 mile EVs aren’t ready and the chargers will need upgrades. If anything, this strategy shows a great deal of foresight.

Exactly my thoughts, I agree. Some people just don’t think about it that at this time the range that most EVs have doesn’t allow them to travel too far. Not unless you want to wait about half the time that you just drove, and do that a number of times in order to go a longer distance. In a year or two this will begin to change, and only as there are EVs that will charge at 100 or 150 kW will there be those higher power chargers installed, and many will be installed between cities then IMO.

True, but it wasn’t years later.

It was months later when they started building Superchargers in low population density areas.

Tesla does not and did not have deep pockets.

VW and BMW do have deep pockets.

A bunch of CCS stations just popped up in Plugshare in Texas. Most of these are the dual chargers without the CCS cables that finally look to be getting upgraded. If this information is correct and not someone just jacking around with Plugshare then these will be the first CCS stations in Texas. Ford announcing a FFE the CCS and CCS stations in Texas, big news in the EV market today.

Hopefully the 2nd part of the interview is where BWW talks about 150kW charging 🙂

This is the most important point … “reliable DC Fast chargers” regarding …

“It is our mission to install the right charging solutions at the right places, and EV drivers have overwhelmingly told us they prefer DC Fast chargers at public spaces. Over the next 24 months EVgo will add reliable DC Fast Combo capability”.

What “The EV Project” and Blink show us it the single station host locations become the weakest link to extended range BEV travel. For this reason well designed DC Charging deployments need to have a pair of redundant DC Chargers!

Absolutely agree! We are suffering from this problem right now in the BC roll-out of DCFCs. Cruise around PlugShare and have a look at the comments. They are all single-install units, and my batting average is only about 75% right now over about a dozen tries. Not exactly confidence inspiring!

If you look at Plugshare today for CCS Corridor chargers from this initiative, I found 5. Four of them are the 24kW CCS-only Express 100 chargers and only one is the 50kW Express 200 (made by Veefil). This is very disappointing because the two on the northern section of I-5 (Yreka & Redding) are at Carl’s Jr. restaurants that are clearly corridor chargers that should be the higher capacity units. As I recall, BMW/VW said that the smaller units would only be used as destination chargers. I can excuse the two on the 101 corridor (King City & Pismo Beach) because they are sited at hotels. This is a very disappointing start, especially since the King City unit has already had significant downtime.

Let’s see… from DC to Boston.

First CCS is at Royal Farms, Glen Burnie, 24 kW, $0.39/kWh, not on the I-95 corridor.
2nd: Homewood Suites in Newark, DE, 24 kW, $0.12/minute for first hour ($7.2/hr), on I-95 corridor
3rd: Royal Farms, Ridley Park, PA: 24 kW, Free
4th: BMW Port of Jersey, 24 kW, Free
5th: Mystic Aquarium, 24 kW, $0.05/minute + $0.20/kWh

BMW i3’s can’t actually make all the jumps without a REx.

So BMW’s investment is to put in 24 kW CCS stations that are obsolete already at high expense? These stations cost about $10k to put in and barely charge faster than an 80 amp J1772, so they are really glorified destination chargers that few EVs can use.

That’s not actually true that the I3s can’t make the jump. You can always charge at L2 chargers or NEMA 14-50 outlets at RV parks. I proved on my trip from Texas to Colorado and back that you can go almost anywhere in an EV. The next time I try the trip again in an EV though it will be in an EV that has DCFC and there will have to be at least a few DCFC stations between Texas and Colorado.

However, you can’t make the jump on CCS.

On-board, the L2 charger is only 7 kW (assuming it’s working properly).

Instead of spending all this money on slow CCS, BMW should instead put the money towards 19 kW onboard charging with 80A J1772. That makes sense long term.

Why the Boston / DC corridor?
-Tight urban stretch
-Range limits, where “50” mile max distances limit cross country
-ZEV MOU states MA/RI/CT/NY/MD all touch the corridor

I am wondering why they are not using their dealership locations? Most of them are in relatively good locations and can generate revenue by having a restaurant or coffee shop.

So when are we going to see state to state DC chargers on our highways? Enough of the inner city chargers lets start exploring the country. It`s time to take a road trip.

This is great to see, but they need to be thinking in terms of installing several DCFC units per location along major travel corridors as Tesla is doing. Otherwise, contention and reliability will always be issues. Still, what we are seeing is far better than nothing!