Munich: Volkswagen AG, BMW and Daimler AG will start building fast-charging stations along European highways this year, making progress with the joint project even as allegations of a technology cartel have put a cloud over cooperative efforts.

The year-old partnership, which includes Ford Motor Co., will establish 20 stations along major roads in Germany, Norway and Austria this year, rising to about 400 by the end of the decade, the companies said Friday in a statement. Through 2018, they will expand the network to more than 100 sites to ease concern among drivers of electric cars over ending up stranded on long trips.

“The first pan-European high-power charging network plays an essential role in establishing a market for electric vehicles," Michael Hajesch, chief executive officer of the Ionity joint venture, said in the statement. The project will help “deliver our common goal of providing customers with fast charging and digital payment capability."

Carmakers are spending record amounts on developing suites of electric vehicles to meet tough pollution standards, and the unusual broad-based cooperation shows the strain of ensuring those efforts eventually pay off. For now, electric car sales remain at a fraction of total deliveries. Through September, BMW has sold 22,225 i3 electric city cars, out of total group sales of 1.8 million vehicles so far this year.

The plan is making progress even after allegations surfaced earlier this year that VW, Daimler and BMW colluded for decades on technology. The CEOs of Volkswagen and Daimler, who self-reported the possible collusion to escape fines, both sought to downplay the issue last month. BMW, while pausing talks for new joint projects, last week said it would continue to work “professionally" with its competitors.

In practice, using the 350kilowatt supercharger, which compares to Tesla Inc.’s 145kilowatt charge points, will bring a vehicle like Mercedes-Benz’s planned EQ electric sport utility vehicle, which has a 500kilometer range, up to about 80% capacity in 15 to 20 minutes. Bloomberg