Munich: Rolling out super chargers along highways in Europe and North America is key to unlocking sales of electric cars, according to the head of the biggest network provider.

Consumers have plenty of battery refueling stations at workplaces, parking lots and shopping centres, ChargePoint chief executive officer (CEO) Pasquale Romano said in an interview. For the head of a company that counts BMW AG and Daimler AG as investors, the biggest challenge is putting more on long-distance routes.

“Getting a highway infrastructure up and ready is critical," he said. “It’s a red-herring that there is no charging network in cities."

Carmakers are spending record amounts on developing electric vehicles to meet increasingly stringent pollution standards. In Europe, tighter carbon-dioxide limits are set to take effect in 2021, spurring manufacturers to make battery-powered vehicles. Volkswagen AG’s main car brand unveiled a plan Thursday to develop five all-electric models in a bid to take on Tesla Inc.

ChargePoint, which is based in Campbell, California, runs a network of about 39,000 battery-charging stations in the US, Europe and Australia that includes both public installations and private ones for companies and residences. After raising $125 million in an investment round led by Daimler and Siemens AG, the company is boosting efforts to bring operations to Germany and the rest of Europe.

Demand for electric vehicles has so far remained tepid as consumers balk at limited vehicle choices and high prices. The availability of charging stations isn’t the problem, according to Romano.

“The infrastructure is segueing naturally, except for highway charging, where Tesla has already proven this can be done without much trouble," he said. The transition is made more challenging by a deeply-ingrained car industry supply chain that churns out millions of gas or diesel vehicles.

“It hasn’t been in their interest to move very fast on electric cars," he said.

The number of public charging points worldwide jumped by 61% last year to 363,000, with China leading the pack, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In Europe, Germany saw the most growth with 33%.

Electric car sales are also expected to accelerate. UBS this week boosted its forecast, citing the demise of diesel’s popularity in Europe, where driving bans loom, and regulation in China. Battery-only vehicles could make up 30% of new sales in Europe by the middle of the next decade, the bank said.

Responding to the so far sluggish uptake, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler have teamed up in a rare investment in infrastructure to offer a European charging network of about 400 stations by the end of the decade. German utility EON SE and Danish charging provider Clever are also working on a similar project, and plan to open their first stations before June to enable summer road trips. The efforts mirror Tesla’s 2012 decision to build its own supercharger network between cities for long-distance travel.

More highway chargers will “remove a buying hurdle for many drivers," Romano said. Bloomberg