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BMW and Volkswagen are challenging Tesla with a network of fast chargers for electric vehicles

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BMW and Volkswagen are collaborating to install a network of fast chargers along the East Coast and West Coast of the US, a project that will initially yield "nearly 100" locations nationwide. The German auto giants are working with ChargePoint, which already operates a network of card-operated chargers that can be installed by companies and individuals on their premises. Construction is already way, starting in San Diego.

What makes the announcement significant is that these units are a cut above the 240-volt Level 2 chargers found scattered throughout the country: they use 500-volt DC Fast Charge, which are capable of recharging both the BMW i3 and the Volkswagen e-Golf to 80 percent in 20 minutes. That compares to 40 minutes to reach 80 percent in an 85 kWh Model S using Tesla's proprietary Supercharger network, though the battery capacity of the Model S is significantly larger: on a dual-motor 85D model, that would work out to around 216 miles of range. By contrast, neither the i3 nor the e-Golf will reach 90 miles on a completely full charge.

Too bad there's a standards war

This isn't the first time BMW has put up a challenge to the Supercharger: it announced a partnership with eVgo last year to deploy at least 100 fast chargers throughout 2015 in California. It'd be nice if there was a single standard that everyone was using to charge electric vehicles quickly, but we're currently mired in a standards battle that has Tesla competing with CHAdeMO — most notably used by the Nissan Leaf — and SAE CCS, which is the standard in use by BMW and Volkswagen, among others. Some adapters exist to allow certain cars to charge on different networks, but it's scattershot; Tesla, for instance, has been promising a CHAdeMO adapter for a while.

On the east coast, the new network will run from Boston to Washington, DC. On the West Coast, they'll run from Portland to San Diego. In both cases, there'll be no gaps greater than 50 miles, allowing EVs with relatively low range (like the i3 and e-Golf) to make it from station to station and take a 20-minute charge before continuing on.