June 15, 2014 5:09 pm

Electric car groups eye collaboration over charging technology

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Ben Stansall / 07875 583086/ bstansall@gmail.com John Griffiths test drives a Tesla sports car near Ascot west of London on September 17, 2009.

Three of the world’s biggest electric-car makers are interested in collaborating on charging technology, following Tesla Motors’ decision to offer its patents to rivals in an attempt to promote the low-emission vehicles.

Nissan and BMW, two of Tesla’s main competitors, are keen on talks with the US carmaker to co-operate on charging networks, sources at the three companies told the Financial Times.

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk last week said that he would allow rivals to use any of Tesla’s patents for free, a day after meeting with BMW executives to discuss the future of the electric-car market.

Mr Musk said that he hoped the unprecedented move would precipitate “a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform”.

Consumer fears over the ease of recharging electric vehicles have been a major stumbling block for the vehicles, which use various different chargers, plug types and power standards across geographies and brands.

Nissan, BMW and Tesla are keen to collaborate on creating possible global vehicle-charging standards, the sources said.

“It is obviously clear that everyone would benefit if there was a far more simple way for everyone to charge their cars,” said one executive, who declined to be named as the plans are not yet official.

Between them, Nissan, the world’s biggest electric-car manufacturer, BMW and Tesla account for about 80 per cent of the world’s battery electric-car sales.

Tesla has risen from an ambitious San Francisco start-up to account for about a quarter of the world’s electric-car market, and defy naysayers at some of the world’s largest carmakers that said that the vehicles were not commercially viable.

But while Tesla’s Model S car and Nissan’s market-leading Leaf, which commanded almost 50 per cent of the global market last year, have sold well in markets such as California and Norway, a lack of charging infrastructure and customer fears over refuelling the cars has held back demand in other markets.

It is obviously clear that everyone would benefit if there was a far more simple way for everyone to charge their cars

- Car group executive

Billionaire entrepreneur Mr Musk, who has said the success of electric cars is more important to him than Tesla’s individual success, hopes that his decision to make Tesla’s patents freely available will spur rivals to share their technology.

BMW, which has invested heavily in its electric i range, said that it and Tesla were “strongly committed to the success of electro-mobility”, and used their meeting to discuss ways to “further strengthen” the global electric-vehicle market.

BMW was informed of Mr Musk’s patent decision at the Wednesday meeting, but both companies stressed that the meeting’s timing was coincidental.

“Nissan welcomes any initiative to expand the volumes of electric vehicles,” the Japanese manufacturer said. “Nissan is the market leader in EVs and has worked with other manufacturers to help proliferate the technology.”

Tesla has worked with other carmakers in the past to help them develop electric cars, and has supplied batteries to Toyota and Mercedes-Benz’s owner Daimler. Both carmakers are shareholders in Mr Musk’s company.

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