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Plug Wars: The Battle for Electric Car Supremacy

Swiss bank UBS estimates that $360 billion will need to be spent over the next eight years to build global charging infrastructure.Swiss bank UBS estimates that $360 billion will need to be spent over the next eight years to build global charging infrastructure.

German carmakers hope a network of high-power charging stations they are rolling out with Ford will set an industry standard for plugs and protocols that will give them an edge over electric car rivals.

At the moment, Tesla and carmakers in Japan and Germany use different plugs and communication protocols to link batteries to chargers, but firms building the charging networks needed for electric vehicles to become mainstream say the number of plug formats will need to be limited to keep costs down, Reuters reported.

Carmakers behind the winning technology will benefit from having an established supply chain and an extensive network, making their vehicles potentially more attractive to customers worried about embarking upon longer journeys, analysts say.

Manufacturers that back losing plugs, however, could end up with redundant research and development and may have to invest to adapt assembly lines and vehicle designs so their customers can use the most widespread fast-charging networks.

Swiss bank UBS has estimated that $360 billion will need to be spent over the next eight years to build global charging infrastructure to keep pace with electric car sales, and it will be key to limit the numerous technologies now in use.

To try to build critical mass for the Combined Charging System (CCS) favored by Europe, BMW, Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, Ford and the Volkswagen group, which includes Audi and Porsche, said in November 2017 they would develop 400 high-power charging stations on main roads in 18 European countries by 2020.

“In the end, it is about safe-guarding investments for those that are investing in electric mobility,” said Claas Bracklo, head of electro-mobility at BMW and the chairman of the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN), which is backing CCS.

It is still early days for electric cars and difficult to predict which plug technology will prevail or even whether there will always be different ways to charge vehicles, unlike the one-size-fits-all nozzle that can refill all petrol cars.

But there is a lot at stake for the carmakers ploughing billions of dollars into the development of batteries and electric cars.

Besides CCS, there are three other standards that will charge batteries fast: Tesla’s Supercharger system, CHAdeMO, or Charge de Move, developed by Japanese firms including carmakers Nissan and Mitsubishi, and GB/T in China, the world’s biggest electric car market.

So far, there are about 7,000 CCS charging points worldwide, according to CharIN, with more than half in Europe. The European Union backs CCS as the standard for fast-charging but does not prohibit other plugs being installed.

That compares with 16,639 charge points compatible with CHAdeMO - most in Japan and Europe - and 8,496 Tesla superchargers, with the majority in the United States. In China, there are 127,434 GB/T charging stations, according to the China Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Alliance.

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