Many of the latest electric vehicles (EVs) now provide sufficient driving range to meet a typical commuter’s daily needs, but range anxiety remains a huge hurdle in encouraging drivers to switch.
There are numerous variables in play and many are related to physical infrastructure. Concerns linger on whether the energy grid can keep up with future EV demand as well as whether industry and government are installing enough stations at the required rate. For example, Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, noted in March 2021 that London had just 7,000 charging points for its 9.5 million citizens. He added that in the UK one in ten charging stations was faulty. However, while physical infrastructure is a vital challenge, as EVs mature some stakeholders are hoping for improvements on other fronts too.
Christian Hahn is Chief Executive of eRoaming expert Hubject. He says that though the industry has made excellent progress over the last decade in electrification, a consistent and seamless charging experience is still lacking. This problem, he adds, has been created by the myriad of different technologies and stakeholders—automakers, suppliers, utilities, governments—involved in the ecosystem.
“Are these different charging stations all usable for me as a customer and are they offering the service I expect for the price I expect?” he told Automotive World. “This is still a big challenge in the market which has not yet been properly solved.” He added that all three of the world’s leading EV markets—the US, Europe and China—are guilty on this front.
When I’m going from A to B I do not want to manually plan my route anymore to go from station to station. Instead, a smartphone app or my car could just tell me: ‘I’m already reserving the charging stations you need to use because I know how fast and how far you’re travelling’
Adopting what Hahn describes as a ‘quality-as-a-service’ approach, Hubject aims to bring together the array of charging stakeholders under one consistent model. By optimising each of its partners’ businesses and improving their quality of service, Hahn says Hubject can help stakeholders get to the root of what makes a successful charging user experience. “What is the uptime of a typical charging station? How can you also measure uptime in a way that companies can understand whether they need to improve? Making this transparent is something we do well because we are connected to several hundreds of charging networks all over the world,” he added.
This is important not just for improving the charging experience for current EV drivers, but especially so for encouraging ‘normal’ customers to transition. Hahn says that most current EV owners fall into three broad categories: those excited by the very latest technology, drivers who are particularly environmentally conscious, and those working within the automotive industry. “Due to their background these consumers are typically more accepting of things not working as they should,” said Hahn. “If you want to reach the mass market, which we are hopefully going to in the coming years, then we need to find solutions.”
Understand the customer
Hahn argues that these solutions must be intelligent, stating that current charging-related digital services—an EV highlighting the nearest station, for instance—are not enough. Hubject instead sees a future where the vehicle can collate historical data to understand drivers better. “When I’m going from A to B I do not want to manually plan my route anymore to go from station to station,” said Hahn. “Instead, a smartphone app or my car could just tell me: ‘I’m already reserving the charging stations you need to use because I know how fast and how far you’re travelling.”
This function could be improved by providing additional insight on current station occupancy and real-time EV charging prices. However, it could be argued that this approach is still thinking too small. “In the best-case scenario, I’ve already submitted my preferences of whether I want to charge faster and maybe pay a bit more to do so or whether I want to charge slower and save money,” said Hahn. “We could even tell the station in advance that I do not care what I pay as long as I get 150km range from my charge. Currently, we’re not getting reliable pricing information or the choice between slow or fast charging.”
Hubject firmly believes that this approach will grant drivers both suitable options and reassurance, but it could also allow operators to create and offer more efficient services. “Customers will want to connect to a charging station,” said Hahn. “By doing that they can reduce cost and operators can lessen their impact on the grid.”
Given the potential value of the EV charging market—McKinsey says in the US alone the market for fleet-charging services could amount to US$15bn annually by 2030—it is unsurprising to see so many companies trying to enter the space. As Hahn notes on the topic of charge point operators, though utility companies are ideally poised given their vast experience in the energy sector to build the underlying infrastructure, Hubject also sees stakeholders such as automakers, parking lot operators and retailers trying to establish a presence in this market. At the same time, numerous companies are also trying to get involved in the end-user experience. Hubject sees a role for itself in connecting these two important and diverse parties.
On the former, Hahn says his company can provide numerous value-adding services; one example offered was financial settlement. “There are hundreds of companies operating these kinds of charging services that need to send and receive invoices,” he explained. “We can handle that process for our partners.”
For EV drivers, Hubject’s most prominent contribution is its Plug&Charge eRoaming platform. Hahn describes Plug&Charge as a “Tesla-like charging experience for non-Tesla vehicles and stations” in that, as the platform’s name suggests, drivers can simply plug in and charge without needing to submit additional information. “You just plug in your charging cable and then there’s an automated communication between the charging station and the EV,” said Hahn. “You do not need the hassle of an app or a credit card. That is handled seamlessly between your vehicle and the charging station and then the invoice pops up on your smartphone.”
What is the uptime of a typical charging station? How can you also measure uptime in a way that companies can understand whether they need to improve? Making this transparent is something we do well because we are connected to several hundreds of charging networks all over the world
Hubject is working hard to extend Plug&Charge’s coverage. Already, Hahn says, Hubject covers 70-80% of all European public charging stations. There are also ongoing efforts to expand further in North America, China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Some big names are also backing Hubject’s platform. BP’s German sub-brand Aral, for instance, announced in September 2021 that it will roll out Plug&Charge across its ultra-fast charging station network and that it aims to complete the process by the end of 2021. “Plug&Charge is helping the industry scale better,” added Hahn. “Standardisation is important because it reduces the risk of investing money into something which could soon be outdated. That’s the reason why we are really satisfied that Plug&Charge is being widely accepted.”
Going forward Hubject’s aim is to continue welcoming more stakeholders to the EV ecosystem by removing entry barriers and helping newcomers understand and tackle the complexities of the market. Hahn says these two efforts will only grow in importance judging by increasing stakeholder efforts to expand beyond their home markets.
“Electric mobility is becoming a global market,” he said. “We see several North American companies are now coming to Europe and vice versa, and Chinese companies doing the same. Many of the challenges all over the world are similar, even if the market structures may be a bit different. My assumption, therefore, is that at least some solutions can be the same as well.”