Nov 15, 2023 - Technology

Mercedes raises the bar on electric car charging

Side by side images of a new Mercedes-Benz electric vehicle charging hub, and its luxurious lounge.

Mercedes-Benz's new charging hubs will feature a lighted canopy and comfortable lounge. Photos: Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The first of at least 400 planned Mercedes-Benz Charging Hubs in the U.S. opened Wednesday near Atlanta, representing a huge upgrade in the electric vehicle (EV) charging experience.

Why it matters: If every charging station were like this, people would be less reluctant to drive an EV.

  • It offers the fastest charging speeds of any network, a well-lighted canopy and a cushy lounge with workspace, snacks and restrooms.
  • Best of all, it's open to all EV brands.

Driving the news: The charging hub, at Mercedes-Benz USA's headquarters in Sandy Springs, Georgia, is one of several recent efforts by automakers to expand charging access.

  • Mercedes plans to invest more than $1 billion, in a joint venture with MN8 Energy, to install 2,500 chargers within at least 400 charging hubs across North America by the end of the decade.
  • That includes several hubs opening later this year at Buc-ee's travel centers in Texas, Florida, Alabama and Georgia (with more coming in 2024) and chargers coming in early 2024 at Simon Mall locations.
  • The automaker says it hopes to promote EV adoption by setting a new standard for fast, convenient, clean and reliable EV charging.

Details: The chargers, made by ChargePoint, can supply up to 400 kW of power, compared to 50-350 kW for most other networks.

  • That means some EV batteries can be charged from 10% to 80% in less than 20 minutes. (Some cars are designed to accept electricity at a slower rate, however, so charging could take longer for those vehicles.)
  • The hubs will feature both industry-standard CCS and Tesla's NACS connectors.

Of note: Among the complaints about existing charging stations is that they're exposed to the weather and often located in poorly lit areas, creating safety concerns.

  • Mercedes' hubs will have well-lit canopies that include solar panels on top generating clean electricity.

The intrigue: While the Mercedes charging hubs will be open to all EV drivers, Mercedes owners get some exclusive benefits.

  • These include automatic reservations made by the car's own software and two years of free charging for new owners. (Existing Mercedes EV owners get six months of free charging.)
  • Everyone else will pay competitive rates for the electricity, Mercedes officials say.
  • "You have to pay for the vending machines, but not to access the Mercedes lounge," quipped Andrew Cornelia, president & CEO of the charging joint venture.

The big picture: Charging anxiety remains one of the biggest impediments to EV adoption.

  • There aren't enough public charging ports in the U.S., and some are unreliable.

Yes, but: Several initiatives meant to address those problems are underway.

  • A $5 billion federal program to add high-speed chargers along major highways should help, but progress has been slow.
  • Tesla is opening up some of its Supercharger network to other brands, as the industry begins to coalesce behind Tesla's charging standard.
  • Meanwhile, seven automakers — including Mercedes — are forming a new company to build 30,000 fast chargers in metropolitan areas and along U.S. highways starting in 2024.

The bottom line: Automakers want to sell more EVs, and as Mercedes and others have figured out, they need to make charging a lot easier first.

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