BMW and Volkswagen Create Charger Network to Compete with Tesla

Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) and Toyota (NYSE: TM) are not the only auto manufacturers that are getting into the filling station business. BMW (OTC: BAMXY) and Volkswagen (OTC: VLKAY) have teamed up with a company called ChargePoint LLC to create an electric vehicle charging network to rival Tesla’s Superchargers.

The network will apparently be located along the I-95 corridor between Boston and Washington, DC, in the Northeast and the I-5 corridor between San Diego and Portland, Oregon, on the West Coast. The idea behind the network is to facilitate long distance travel with electric cars, much as Tesla’s Superchargers do.

ChargePoint already operates more than 20,000 charging points for electric vehicles around the United States. Most of them are located in parking garages and other public places. There’s no word yet on where exactly the new stations will be located, although they could be at rest areas or perhaps at truck stops.

The smart place to put them would be in the parking lots of large retail stores, just like gas stations or fast food joints. That way the driver could shop or buy lunch while the vehicle was charging up. The idea is not as farfetched as you may think; Kroger (NYSE: KR), Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ: COST), Safeway (NYSE: SFWY) and Walmart (NYSE: WMT) are all in the gas station business these days. Kroger is now the nation’s third largest operator of filling stations.

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Volkswagen and BMW hope to enhance the popularity of their electrics with the network. Volkswagen markets the E-Golf and BMW the Ion. There’s no word on whether other electric car makers, such as General Motors (NYSE: GM), which made a point of unveiling its Bolt electric concept car at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, will join in.

The networks will operate much like the superchargers. They also underscore one of the biggest challenges facing those selling alternative fuel vehicles fueling them. Toyota is now giving away its fuel cell patents in an attempt to get somebody to build hydrogen gas filling stations for its fuel cell vehicles. Tesla makes gives free electricity away at Superchargers to people that buy its popular Model S sedan.

One of the big charges facing all the electric carmakers is the time that it takes to charge their vehicles. It takes around three minutes to fill the tank of a diesel, gasoline, natural gas or hydrogen powered vehicle. It takes about 30 minutes to charge a present generation electric.

That can be a real drag as this video of a visit to a Tesla supercharger in Connecticut shows. The only thing for the driver to do there while waiting for the car to juice up was to chow down on fast food.

ChargePoint and its partners certainly have their work cut out for them. Even though electrics are fashionable and green, they still have some serious deficiencies when compared to more conventional vehicles. Ironically enough, it might be the cost of building networks of filling stations and giving away electricity that kills electric cars.