Mercedes-Benz plans to build an electric car charging network in the United States
Mercedes-Benz announced on Thursday that it will install a network of 2,500 high-power chargers in the United States by 2027, a sign that the German automaker is extending its commitment to electric vehicles by borrowing a page from Tesla’s playbook.
The fast chargers, spread over 400 stations, will operate under the Mercedes brand. Owners of company cars will have preferential access, although the network is open to cars from other manufacturers.
Tesla started building charging stations years ago, and the network has been critical to the automaker’s success by allaying car shoppers’ fears that they won’t have enough places to plug in their vehicles and could be stuck on the side of the road. These US fast chargers only work with Tesla cars, although the company has said it will open up the network to other brands.
Mercedes’ planned charging network is the latest sign that the company, which has lost customers to Tesla, is serious about electric vehicles. Last year, the company opened a battery plant in Alabama and began building an electric sport utility vehicle, the EQS, at its plant near Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Even when complete, Mercedes’ network will be only about a third the size of Tesla’s today. Still, the effort is more ambitious than any other mainstream automaker. Electrify America has 3,400 fast chargers in 790 locations across the United States, but does not display the Volkswagen brand prominently, even though the German company founded the network and owns the majority of the business.
“This is a strategic decision to put our money where our mouth is,” Mercedes-Benz chief executive Ola Källenius told reporters on Thursday.
The company, already a partner of Ionity, a European charging network, also plans to install Mercedes brand chargers in Europe and China but is starting with the United States.
Mercedes will share the cost of the grid with MN8, a solar power producer that will supply power to the sites. The companies said they plan to apply for federal grants available to companies that build chargers.
Mercedes owners will be able to reserve charging time on the network, which will be designed to work automatically with Mercedes cars so drivers don’t have to do anything but plug in the vehicle.
Charging and payment “everything happens under the covers, invisibly,” said Pasquale Romano, chief executive of ChargePoint, a charger maker that will supply charging equipment to Mercedes, on Thursday.
The automaker plans to start building the charging hubs this year. At least some of the devices will pump power into cars at 350 kilowatts per hour, much faster than chargers typically found in the United States.
The hubs will be near restaurants and restrooms, Mercedes said, such as near luxury shopping malls frequented by the company’s well-heeled customers. Hubs will have surveillance cameras for security.
Mercedes is trying to address complaints from electric vehicle owners that they don’t feel safe using chargers in remote areas. The hubs will be in “a safe place”, said Markus Schäfer, Mercedes’ chief technology officer, “not in the backyard of a mall next to the dumpster”.