Mercedes-Benz Plans to Build U.S. Electric Car Charging Network

Mercedes-Benz said Thursday that it would install a network of 2,500 high-powered chargers in the United States by 2027, a sign the German carmaker is expanding its commitment to electric vehicles by borrowing a page from Tesla’s playbook.

The fast chargers, distributed among 400 stations, will operate under the Mercedes brand. Owners of the company’s cars will have preferential access, although the network will be open to cars from other manufacturers.

Tesla started building charging stations years ago, and the network has been essential to the automaker’s success by allaying the fears of car buyers that they won’t have enough places to plug their vehicles in and could be stranded on the side of the road. Those U.S. fast chargers work only with Tesla cars, although the company has said it will open the network to other brands.

Mercedes’s planned charging network is the latest sign that the company, which has lost customers to Tesla, is serious about electric vehicles. Last year, the company opened a battery factory in Alabama and began building an electric sport utility vehicle, the EQS, at its plant near Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Even when complete, Mercedes’s network will be only about one-third as large as Tesla’s is now. Still, the effort is more ambitious than any by other traditional automakers. Electrify America has 3,400 fast chargers at 790 locations in the United States, but does not prominently display the Volkswagen brand even though the German company founded the network and owns a majority of the business.

“This is a strategic decision to put our money where our mouth is,” Ola Källenius, the chief executive of Mercedes-Benz, told reporters Thursday.

The company, already a partner in Ionity, a European charging network, also plans to install Mercedes-brand chargers in Europe and China but is beginning with the United States.

Mercedes will split the cost of the network with MN8, a solar energy producer that will provide energy to the sites. The companies said they planned to apply for federal subsidies available to companies that build chargers.

Mercedes owners will be able to reserve charger time at the network, which will be designed to work automatically with Mercedes cars so that drivers won’t need to do anything except plug in the vehicle.

Charging and payment “all happens under the covers, in an invisible way,” Pasquale Romano, the chief executive of ChargePoint, a maker of chargers that will supply charging equipment to Mercedes, said Thursday.

The automaker plans to start building the charging hubs this year. At least some of the devices will pump energy into cars at 350 kilowatts per hour, much faster than chargers typically found in the United States.

The hubs will be close to restaurants and restrooms, Mercedes said, for example near luxury malls that are frequented by the company’s well-heeled customers. The hubs will have surveillance cameras for security.

Mercedes is trying to address complaints by electric vehicle owners that they feel unsafe while using chargers in isolated areas. The hubs will be in “a safe location,” Markus Schäfer, the chief technology officer of Mercedes, said, “not in the backyard of a shopping center next to the dumpster.”

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