The joint venture will use the CCS standard, which offers a connector that is compatible with most electric vehicles  (Photo: Audi)

German carmakers BMW, Daimler, Audi and Porsche together with Ford Motor agreed to cooperate on a fast-charging network for battery-electric vehicles along the continent's major highways.

The venture, which is open to other automakers, will build about 400 ultra-fast charging stations, beginning in 2017. The stations will use the combined charging system (CCS) standard, which offers a connector that is compatible with most EVs.

The car companies' move comes as US electric-car maker Tesla continues to roll out its network of superchargers. It also reflects the auto industry's growing realization that a dearth of charging stations is holding back EV sales everywhere.

"A reliable, ultra-fast charging infrastructure is important for mass consumer adoption," Ford Motor CEO Mark Fields said in a joint press release.

In the same press statement, the CEOs of the other joint venture participants offered similar points of view. "The breakthrough of e-mobility requires two things," Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said. "Convincing vehicles and a comprehensive charging infrastructure."

And Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said: "Reliable fast charging services are a key factor for drivers to choose an electric vehicle."

In Europe, car brands need to sell more EVs to meet stringent fuel-economy standards that will come into force in coming years. Fleetwide targets cannot be met with the current mix of combustion-engine-powered cars. In addition, growing urban air pollution is putting pressure on the industry to reduce tailpipe emissions, which EVs by nature would do.

Volkswagen Group, the parent company of Audi and Porsche, has set ambitious electric-vehicle goals for the group and for the invidual group brands. VW brand CEO Herbert Diess said last week he wants to play a key role in the breakthrough of electric vehicles. Europe's largest brand aims to sell 1 million electric cars a year by 2025, Diess said.

Other automakers are also investing heavily in electric mobility, with both Mercedes-Benz and BMW planning to roll out a broad range of EVs in coming years.

The planned fast-charging network will offer power levels up to 350 kW, which would reduce charging times significantly from today. As Audi's Stadler said: "We intend to create a network that allows our customers on long-distance trips to use a coffee break for recharging."

-By Arjen Bongard