* Carmakers plan to build 400 charging sites in first step
* Power levels up to 350 KW hours reduce charging time
* New JV open to other carmakers
BERLIN, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Top carmakers in Germany have agreed to jointly invest in thousands of ultra-fast charging sites across Europe to boost mainstream acceptance of electric cars, the companies said.
Spurred on by the success of U.S. rival Tesla which has received huge pre-orders for its Model 3 car, German rivals such as Volkswagen and Daimler's Mercedes are accelerating their own electric car programmes.
But scarce charging points and sticker prices for electric cars that still exceed those of comparable combustion models stifle mass-market demand despite sales incentives.
To help turn the tables, VW, its Audi and Porsche luxury brands, BMW, Daimler and Ford's European division are planning a joint venture to fund the setting-up of charging sites starting next year, the six carmakers said in a joint statement published on Tuesday.
The manufacturers want to create about 400 charging sites in a first step and, by 2020, ensure that customers have access to thousands of charging points, they said, citing a memorandum of understanding.
The network will be based on so-called combined charging system (CCS) technology, enhancing existing AC and DC charging standards and allowing for ultra-fast power levels of up to 350 kilowatt (KW) hours.
"The availability of high-power stations allows long-distance electric mobility for the first time and will convince more and more customers to opt for an electric vehicle," Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said.
Executives across the industry predict electric cars will become increasingly popular thanks to advances that make batteries get cheaper and more powerful and the VW emissions scandal, which has sparked a regulatory backlash against diesel-engine vehicles.
The six carmakers said they will be equal partners in the initiative and also asked other competitors to participate in the project, adding the joint venture will cooperate with regional partners. (Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Maria Sheahan)