VIENNA Austria is creating a nationwide network of charging stations for electric cars, making it easier for drivers to charge up as part of the country's efforts to promote the vehicles to reduce CO2 emissions.
From April, 11 electricity suppliers will combine their charging stations into one network of 1,300 public points throughout the Alpine republic, Transport Minister Joerg Leichtfried said at a news conference on Monday.
Majority state-owned hydropower producer Verbund, working with Germany's Siemens, is the country's largest provider of charging points, with around 400.
The move means drivers can sign up with any one of the 11 suppliers and use all the stations within the combined network, rather than have separate contracts with each company.
Austria has been supporting the use of electric cars with various initiatives over the last six years and saw a 130 percent jump in new registrations of electric cars last year, the biggest increase within the European Union.
Since the beginning of the month, buyers in Austria can receive up to 4,000 euros ($4,300) in rebates to help offset the higher price of an electric vehicle. Neighbouring Germany introduced a comparable premium last year.
The share of electric cars is three times higher in Austria than the EU average and four times as high as in Germany.
As well as investing in electric cars, auto manufacturers BMW, Volkswagen, Ford and Daimler are planning to build about 400 next-generation charging stations in Europe that can reload an electric car in minutes instead of hours.
Transport Minister Leichtfried said Austria's network will comprise 2,000 stations by the end of the year, rising to 5,000 in 2020, adding the network will be connected with others in Europe within months.
The new network will not cover all charging stations available in Austria but Juergen Halasz, the head of the federal electromobility association, said he expected others to join in the future.
($1 = 0.9301 euros)
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Victoria Bryan)