For customers, charging and refuelling are a necessity: you do it to keep your car running. For carmakers they hardly seem to offer much opportunity for a USP: after all, a plug has to fit a socket just like a nozzle does a fuel tank – it’s what the customer expects. Understandably, however, customers are not all that interested in the details of setting up and operating the charging infrastructure.
All they want is for their car to work, not only on their daily commute but also across longer distances from time to time. For the BMW Group, the challenge is to meet these two requirements and offer comprehensive charging availability with a harmonised technical standard. To meet this challenge, two solutions have been developed – BMW Charging and MINI Charging – which are already serving customers with a total of approx. 450,000 charging points worldwide. But what’s the strategy behind the different charging technologies? And how are they distributed across the regions? Users never explicitly ask these two questions, but whether or not the offering is integrated and customer-friendly soon becomes clear when it’s used in a day-to-day context.
RELEVANT CUSTOMER USE CASES: CHARGE AT HOME, CHARGE AT WORK, CHARGE AT PUBLIC.
Without a doubt, the most common scenario is charging from home, as that’s where the car is regularly parked for longer periods – overnight, for example. So it’s here that the customer needs reliable access to charging. Essentially, whether or not someone can install a wallbox beside their private parking spot isn’t really the question – although a wallbox probably is the most convenient solution. Far more, customers can benefit from the suite of Charge at Home services, ranging from installation of the various wallboxes to payment options for charging company cars at home or integrating private cars into home energy management systems.
In European cities especially, which have grown over the centuries and have high population densities, car owners rarely have their own parking spot, which in turn means no private charging solution. Estimates by BMW Group suggest that this is true of up to 75 percent of car owners based in densely populated urban centres. So to make electric mobility a realistic alternative for them as well, the company is involved in projects and consortiums in various cities to develop the public charging infrastructure for on-street parkers – because no matter how good the product offering, without proper solutions, electromobility will remain a huge compromise for these people. The BMW Group’s own studies indicate that a critical mass of between 0.5 and 1 public charging stations are needed per 100 inhabitants in cities. As electromobility ramps up to become a mass-market phenomenon, a sense of security around sufficient range and the visibility of charging stations in public places are crucial.
Another key place where cars could regularly be charged is at work. By 2021, the BMW Group will install more than 4,100 charging points for associates to use at the parking facilities of its various German sites. About half will be accessible to the public as well. Incidentally, when it comes to charging overnight or during working hours, capacity is not necessarily the issue, as vehicles are parked for long enough to replenish even the largest batteries, so this solution reduces the need for investments in the charging infrastructure without impacting quality for the user.
The Charge at Work service for fleet customers is based on exactly the same approach and is currently being rolled out. It also covers company car charging at home, including hardware installation and customer accounts, with the primary goal of eliminating anything that hampers the seamless transition between the various charging options. The BMW Group’s overall concept of fleets, management and charging is available to other large fleet operators as well, via the multi-brand mobility provider Alphabet.
PARKING SPOT AS AN INCENTIVE TO CHARGE.
As mentioned at the top of this article, charging an electric car is the equivalent of refuelling a combustion-powered one – and neither job is much fun. But take a second look and you soon see that charging does have an advantage over tanking up: you get a parking spot at a public charging point. Unsurprisingly, the parking situation in every major city around the world means drivers are wasting more and more time looking for a space. But those with a plug-in hybrid or fully electric car now park and charge at public charging points, which saves them a lot of searching for a parking spot. Practical benefits of this kind should not be underestimated: numerous studies have already proved that this is a highly effective incentive. Finding somewhere to leave the car without having a nervous breakdown definitely has its advantages! That’s why the BMW Group supports these incentives in its projects with the various cities – and is not only benefiting its own customers but also speeding up the rollout of electromobility more generally.
Unlike with overnight or workplace charging, when it comes to longer-distance travel the speed of charging is important. To establish a customer-friendly offering here too, the BMW Group and other carmakers formed the joint venture IONITY. Launched back in 2017, the consortium has so far established over 270 charging parks along major trans-European routes. Another 54 are currently under construction. Each one comprises six charging points on average with capacity of up to 350 kW. The aim is to set up 400 parks in total, which would offer such high-density coverage that even electric cars will be able to travel long distances across Europe. All of the aforementioned public charging facilities are covered by the BMW Charging service, and therefore require no further access passes or apps.
INCENTIVISATION – BMW EDRIVE ZONES, BMW POINTS AND CHARGEFORWARD.
Besides the aforementioned services, the BMW Group has also set up other technical projects, which were launched as pilot programmes and are now being rolled out in series vehicles. In March 2020, for example, BMW eDrive Zones was introduced into the latest plug-in hybrids. It has already been rolled out in the first markets and will soon be available in other markets as well. BMW eDrive Zones is one of several technical solutions and incentives introduced by the BMW Group in response to the often-heard, unfair accusation that plug-in hybrids do more by combustion power than in electric mode. It works on the basis of the navigation system, which has the ‘green zones’ of more than 80 European cities programmed into it. The system includes the zones in routings and ensures that vehicles automatically switch to electric on entering one. This means drivers switch to zero local emissions in city driving without actually having to do anything. Fuel consumption drops, and with it CO2 and other harmful emissions. In combination with the BMW Points incentive programme, which also offers financial rewards, BMW eDrive Zones encourages PHEV users to do as much driving as possible in electric mode. For each electric kilometre, they earn one point, doubling to two in designated eco-zones. Although the system has not yet been available for very long, customers are clearly very open to it and demand is strong, as points can be traded for free charging.
BMW is the only manufacturer to offer such a function, which was developed and tested in a pilot project implemented in the city of Rotterdam.
Another project that has delivered very positive results is ChargeForward, in California, which was conducted in conjunction with the local network operator PG&E and ended in April of this year. The BMW Group and PG&E investigated ways of making charging particularly cost-effective when there is plenty of renewable energy available – mainly during the daytime, when there is plenty of wind and sun. However, most users tend to charge in the evenings, when they get home – and when the sun has already set. To help project participants to change their habits, the project provided clear information and financial incentives. And it worked: on days when they could save a little money – during Earth Week 2019, for example – there was a significant shift in demand towards daytime charging. This finding is also highly relevant for the network operator PG&E, who is involved in upscaling electromobility for the mass market. PG&E now hope that this type of incentive will reduce the investment required for the network – which would benefit both sides. The results of the study show that the energy and mobility transformations complement and accelerate each other.
Positive indicators around customer acceptance of incentives from BMW Points and ChargeForward certainly show there is a general interest. So the BMW Group will continue to work on these innovative fields, which offer not only a valuable USP but also huge benefits for the customer.