BMW and Mercedes team up on Chinese charging

The two German OEMS will collaborate on building out premium network with customer perks

BMW and Mercedes team up on Chinese charging
The two firms are betting on high-end charging sites boosting their brand equities in China

The Chinese arms of Germany’s BMW and Mercedes aim to develop a 1,000-station high-power charging network in the country by the end of 2026. They will establish a 50/50 joint venture (JV) partnership to meet these ambitions.

The co-operation is “intended to elevate customer public charging experience”, suggesting that the logic is to boost their premium brands through a high-end charging experience.

Promises include “fast, convenient, reliable, and tailor-made charging solutions for the Chinese market”, “elevating the premium e-mobility experience in China” and “state-of-the-art charging technologies”.

And while the charging will be publicly accessible, BMW and Mercedes customers “will be able to enjoy a series of exclusive features, such as plug and charge and online reservation for a seamless digital experience”. The JV also hopes to lean heavily into strong sustainability credentials, intending to procure electricity generated from renewable sources, where conditions allow.

The first stations are planned to begin operating next year in what the OEMs identify as “top” regions for new energy vehicles in China. The ultimate goal is c.7,000 high-power charging points across 1,000 stations by the end of 2026.

Although they have not exclusively partnered previously, the two German OEMs are no strangers to working together, as both are stakeholders in the Ionity European charging network and, in the US, both are part of a seven OEM-strong DC fast charging initiative announced in late July.

Mercedes opened its first own-branded charging station in Europe earlier this month, as part of a plan for a network of 2,000 sites across the globe. The Mannheim, Germany site is its fourth globally, with one in the US and the other two at Chengdu and Foshan in China. It remains to be seen if these will therefore co-brand with BMW and the China portion of Mercedes’ global ambitions will fold into the JV.

Premium brands

Own-brand charging by OEMs is something of a divisive strategy. Clearly, both BMW and Mercedes are betting big on the idea that their JV will be brand-enhancing in China, where both firms are committed to retaining their premium status to avoid their offerings getting dragged into the potentially ruinous competition in China’s BEV mass market.

“There is a very solid brand-based premium market in China on the BEV side,” BMW board chairman Oliver Zipse said in August. “We are carefully, organically building our BEV position in China. We have decided not to rush that with price action, like you see it in the entry segment, because we think, long-term, that would probably not be the best play,” agrees Mercedes CEO Ola Kallenius.

But there is another school of thought that says charging is a non-core distraction for legacy OEMs and best avoided to focus on the challenge of making BEVs that customers want and can afford to buy.  

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