BMW Exec: Public Chargers Aren’t Crucial to Electric Car Success

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There appear to be two different types of approaches to the growing popularity of electric vehicles forming: there’s the mass-buildout of a supporting infrastructure to help fuel the fleet approach à la Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA), or there’s the save some money by not doing that because most people charge at home approach, which appears to be BMW’s favored choice.

An executive with BMW said that the success of electric vehicles is not dependent on the proliferation of public charging stations, but on the willingness of consumers to have charging ports installed at their homes. That’s a stark contrast to Tesla’s approach of a mass buildout of its own proprietary charging system across the country — and Europe.

Herbert Diess, a BMW board member, said that electric vehicles will likely be largely used close to home, not for longer trips, therefore negating the need for electricity sources away from the owner’s residence. Diess isn’t just spouting off, however. His statements come based on the usage of BMW’s preliminary EV testing, which indicated that “very few people would use public charging.”

It’s also based on his personal experience. Diess has now been driving BMW’s new i3 for over a year, “and not once have I touched public charging.” It’s also worth noting that Europe — where the i3 is already on sale — is structured considerably from the way American roadways and urban planning has played out.

Wards Auto, which reported the story, quoted Diess as saying that parts of northern Europe are investing heavily in a charging infrastructure. Amsterdam, for example, expects to have 2,000 public charging stations by the end of next year, Wards said. He added that EVs are used (primarily) within cities for about one hour per day. “So there is plenty of time for recharging,” he noted.

“We think long-term there will be many EVs around, mainly when it comes to commuting shorter distances in metropolitan areas,” he was quoted as saying. BMW, like Tesla, is counting heavily that battery electric vehicles will be the way forward as an alternative to gasoline. The i3 compact and the i8 performance car are slated to go on sale in the Spring in the U.S.

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“The customers are really enthusiastic,” Diess said of the European i3 range owners. “They love the experience of driving electrically. The feedback is what they would have expected in an electric car from BMW: direct steering, fast, a narrow turning cycle. It’s the typical BMW concept: The front axle is for steering, and the rear axle is for acceleration. Electric motors should be at the rear axle because there’s so much torque available – the front wheels can’t handle it.”

Additionally, and as testament to his statements questioning the use of public charging stations, he noted that more buyers are not opting for the optional range extender, an on-board generator that doubles the range of the i3.

“I personally prefer the car without the range extender,” he says. “It depends how you use the car. If I used the car for daily business — going to work, week in, week out — I wouldn’t go for the range extender because it’s additional weight and the car loses a little bit of its agility, its nimbleness.”

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