3-way ‘big deal’ eyes new model for EV chargers
Three crucial players on the highway – a chain of truck stops, an automaker and a charging company – plan to manufacture a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers, creating a model of scale in the age of electric vehicles.
While other cooperative charging networks have been created between electrical equipment manufacturers and automakers, or between automakers and fossil fuel stations, this is the first to involve all three. This suggests that a growing number of American companies expect to make money from EV refueling.
In the deal, announced last Thursday, Pilot Co., one of the nation’s largest refueling chains, said it would house DC fast chargers at up to 500 of its locations. The chargers will carry the Pilot name, as well as a sub-brand of General Motors Co. The equipment will be designed and operated by EVgo Inc., one of the nation’s largest builders of fast-charging stations.
“This partnership is the first of many,” said Chris Bast, director of electric vehicle infrastructure investments at the Electrification Coalition, a nonprofit that works on electric vehicle policy. “What you’re going to see from the industry and from the states is a lot, a lot, a lot more investment.”
This Pilot-GM-EVgo system will take some time to form. The first chargers could go online in early 2023, with full construction scheduled for 2026. It could come to encompass 2,000 charging stations, with each location serving multiple vehicles.
GM published an attempted map, with the heavily weighted stations in the eastern half of the country. The exact locations of the pilots have not been chosen.
Each of the companies involved said they would seek public funding to build the stations. The biggest prize they’re aiming for is the federal infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law last year. In its first year, the law invests $1 billion in the very type of highway station that Pilot, GM and EVgo offer (thread of energyJune 13).
But companies will also seek state and local funding. “The program is absolutely designed to take them into account,” said Alex Keros, director of electric vehicle infrastructure development at GM, in an interview.
For example, the stations are distinguished by the high power they will provide. Each machine will be capable of delivering 350 kilowatts, more than nearly all electric vehicles on the road today are designed to accept.
However, that 350kW will be split between two stalls, meaning two vehicles can share the flux and probably still get their maximum electron flux. The 350 kW machines, split in half, meet the proposed guidelines for federal funding, which calls for 150 kW per port.
‘Good for all’
An exciting feature of the new partnership is how it addresses one of drivers’ top concerns – range anxiety on long journeys – while positioning each of the partners to serve their customers in a new way.
For example, drivers of General Motors vehicles will enjoy benefits that other drivers of electric vehicles will not get.
They will be able to reserve chargers in advance, a feature not available to Tesla drivers, even on Tesla’s own Supercharger network. These stations are designed for use by all types of electric vehicles except Teslas, which have a custom connector.
“We think it’s good for everyone, but great for GM,” said Keros, the company’s head of electric vehicle charging.
Last year, GM announced it would spend nearly $750 million on electric vehicle infrastructure. It has a prior partnership with EVgo to build fast chargers in cities. The vision of this system is to establish 3,250 outlets in 52 metropolitan areas by 2025.
The pilot stations will be branded “Ultium Charge 360,” a pulse of GM’s battery business, which is called Ulitium. Keros suggested that other similar agreements could be concluded “with partners not yet announced”.
Keros said there was a financial benefit for GM in the deal, but did not specify what. GM will provide data on its existing fleet of vehicles to Pilot to assess the best locations.
For Pilot, the shift to electric vehicle charging is part of a long-term strategy that may be in the red at first. Electric vehicle charging is generally not cost-effective, but experts predict that could change as more vehicles hit the roads.
“I’ll be very honest: I don’t expect the economy to work out in the short term,” Pilot CEO Shameek Konar said in an interview.
Pilot operates more than 750 gas and diesel service stations across the United States and Canada, designed for the needs of long-haul truckers and regular drivers. Some stations are branded Flying J. Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, Pilot is rated by Forbes as the seventh largest privately held US company.
The pricing plan is part of Pilot’s efforts, announced in March, to spend $1 billion to renovate hundreds of its stores. Stations will offer Wi-Fi and more lounges and dining options. This may suit EV drivers and bring more revenue to Pilot, as EV charging stops are much longer than the approximately five minutes needed to refuel gasoline or diesel.
The third member of the partnership, EVgo, marks the expansion of a new line of business.
Since EVgo was founded in 2010, it has owned and operated the chargers it has built, all bearing the company name. This will be the company’s first major “white label” project, in which someone else’s brand is on the charger.
“The biggest difference is that instead of EVgo owning these chargers, Pilot will own these chargers,” said Jonathan Levy, chief commercial officer of EVgo. EVgo will design and build the stations and manage their operation.
“That’s a big deal for us from a business model perspective,” Levy added.