Charging stations – a tangled network of tariffs and contract models


Refueling and paying is easy with a petrol or diesel engine, there are around 14,500 filling stations in Germany with 150,000 petrol pumps, and the driver is back on the road in ten minutes. Charging an electric car on the go is trickier: There are 46,174 public charging stations, but hundreds of operators, charging cards, contract models and tariffs. The car companies are using very different approaches to try to make everyday life easier for buyers of their e-cars – and to keep them loyal.

“Simply fill up with electricity everywhere”, advertises Volkswagen, “simply with a card”. VW, Skoda and Seat offer their e-car customers a card or app with which they can tap 238,000 charging points from various operators across Europe. The customers then receive an invoice from their car manufacturer once a month. “Customers would prefer to have fixed prices for the electricity they charge,” says VW spokesman Tim Fronzek. But not all charging station operators are willing to accept this. That is why VW does not offer any fixed prices for all charging stations. Skoda does – but the cheaper, the more the carmaker charges as a monthly basic fee.

Unlike VW, Skoda and Seat, Audi is not connected to the Volkswagen charging subsidiary Elli, but to DCS – the joint charging subsidiary of competitors Mercedes and BMW. The advertises with access to 98 percent of the public charging points in Germany and a total of almost 250,000 in Europe. Also with a card, also with monthly billing. Meanwhile, Fiat, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia are also included. And the oil company BP is just getting on board as the third owner.

“We have concluded contracts with 500 providers of charging infrastructure and offer this to automakers as a bundled package. The automaker can then make this available to its customers,” says DCS boss Jörg Reimann. In the future, e-car drivers would also be informed about free pillars and could make reservations.

Here too, simple is the key word. “Those who get to the market early and offer their customers simple, convenient solutions will keep them and continue to do business in the future,” says Reimann. He doesn’t want to talk about sales and results today. But the charging service business “will very soon be profitable for the big players,” says Reimann. “Profit comes with volume.” Exclusive offers, on the other hand, are rarely profitable these days. Reimann says: “That is at the expense of utilization.”

Tesla has an exclusive network with around 150 fast charging stations in Germany and around 3,000 worldwide. But Tesla boss Elon Musk also wants to have other cars plugged into his sockets soon: “We’re opening our Supercharger network to other electric vehicles later this year,” he tweeted in July. That would bring him money and data. It is unclear whether all stations will be accessible, whether drivers of other brands can also get the booking data of the pillars and reserve what they should pay.

VW, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ford and Hyundai have jointly set up a fast charging network along the highways. Their joint daughter Ionity now has around 360 stations in operation across Europe.

Audi is now also planning to set up its own rapid charging network in cities, “with a lounge and exclusive reservation” for Audi drivers. Drivers of other brands can also charge there – if there are still places available. The pilot project will start at the trade fair in Nuremberg, said Audi boss Duesmann on Friday. “That is an addition to what we do in the cooperation”, but: “We have planned to expand that significantly.”

According to the Federal Network Agency, there are 6,750 publicly accessible fast charging points and 39,424 normal charging points nationwide. In an Allensbach survey for the Association of the Automotive Industry, 64 percent of those questioned saw an insufficient number of charging stations as an obstacle to buying e-cars.