Volkswagen and Tesco to build UK's biggest free car-charging network

  • Tesco and VW are to fund as many as 2,500 electric car charging bays.
  • The slower charger option will be free to use.
  • Volkswagen Group has said its VW brand should sell a million electric cars a year by 2025.
A Volkswagen car charging outside a Tesco supermarket.
Volkswagen
A Volkswagen car charging outside a Tesco supermarket.

German auto firm Volkswagen and U.K. grocer Tesco have teamed up to build the largest free electric car charging network in Britain.

The two firms announced Friday that over the next three years they will install nearly 2,500 charging points in the parking lots of up to 600 Tesco stores across the United Kingdom.

Volkswagen U.K. board member Mike Orford told CNBC by phone that his company wants to encourage people towards electric vehicle ownership by removing anxieties about when and where a car can be charged.

"People that live in a flat who might want an electric car can't charge at home as they have to park in the street. If they say, 'Actually, I know I go to Tesco twice a week for a shop,' then this suddenly feels quite viable," he said.

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have revealed that more than 120,000 'alternatively fueled vehicles' have been registered in the U.K. in 2018 — a 22 per cent increase on the same period last year.

Installed by the charging network operator Pod Point, customers at larger Tesco sites will be able to choose between a free 7-kilowatt (kw) charger or a pay-as-you go rapid charge 50 kw option.

Orford said people wouldn't need to be a Tesco customer to make use of the charge points, but the parking bays would be monitored in the same way as disabled or "mother and baby" spots.

Volkswagen hopes the use of the bays, which should be compatible with most makes of electric cars, will become habitual to shoppers.

"It is a bit like plugging in your mobile phone, most of us don't wait until the battery is flat," Orford said, before adding, "People can get a quick 10-minute charge while just buying a pint of milk."

The cost is being borne by both Volkswagen and Tesco, but beyond stating that it is a "multi-million pound" initiative, neither company is revealing the expected outlay.

Volkswagen Group has said its VW brand should sell a million electric cars a year by 2025. The auto group announced earlier this month it would spend almost 44 billion euros ($50 billion) on developing electric cars, autonomous driving and new mobility services by 2023.

On Wednesday, Volkswagen confirmed it is deciding where to locate a new factory in North America to build electric vehicles for the U.S. market.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the charging points will be in the parking lots of up to 600 Tesco stores.

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