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How one company is energizing the growing EV charging industry

David Brancaccio and Jarrett Dang Jan 3, 2023
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

How one company is energizing the growing EV charging industry

David Brancaccio and Jarrett Dang Jan 3, 2023
Heard on:
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The electric vehicle market is growing — fast. EVs accounted for 5.6% of new cars sold in 2022, which is almost double the previous year’s market share. The trend is expected to only rise as battery-powered options become cheaper and battery technology improves.

As the number of EVs increases, charging infrastructure will need to correspondingly increase. The current charging landscape in the U.S. is, by most accounts, lacking. Enter a company like Charge Enterprises, which provides expertise and services for places that want to install charging stations. The company, which was listed on the Nasdaq just this year, is a player in the growing space between charger manufacturers and automakers.

“We’re the steel toe boots on the ground with the highly coveted electricians and engineers making other people’s systems work,” said Andrew Fox, CEO of Charge Enterprises, who spoke to Marketplace’s David Brancaccio along with Charge President Mark LaNeve. “You can’t make that hardware work by just placing it on the ground. There’s a tremendous amount of engineering and electrical services work that go into that.”

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: You know, the charging experience can be exalted. There’s an electric charger near a movie theater where I go, and you get a free parking with it. So that’s nice. But sometimes the experience here in 2022 going into 2023 is not exalted. Would you concede that improvements are necessary?

Andrew Fox: Absolutely. So the analogy that we use is that similar to the friction that you faced 35 years ago when starting to see the wireless evolution happen. That’s the friction that you’re going to see today. And over the next several years, as more models come out and infrastructure gets better, that experience is going to lose that friction. And our belief is as the enablers of this EV evolution for transportation on the infrastructure side, that you’re going to not only see robust usage of electric vehicles, but you’re also going to see the technology and the infrastructure sprout up around that. Mark, you want to add a little bit to that?

Mark LaNeve: Yeah, Andrew, thank you. And David, thanks for the question. If you think about internal combustion engines, you go to a gas station. And you know, thank goodness there’s over 100,000 in the United States. They’re ubiquitous. But you know, with charging, we believe people are going to want to do that where they dwell — at their office, at their health club, their multiunit housing, at their home, at a stadium. And so it needs to become seamless and frictionless, like Andrew said, and ubiquitous where people live and go.

Brancaccio: So your company doesn’t make chargers. So tell me what it is that you offer.

Fox: Yeah, I think how you should think of us is we’re the steel toe boots on the ground with the highly coveted electricians and engineers making other people’s systems work. And so we’re agnostic to the hardware, for good reason. But you can’t make that hardware work by just placing it on the ground. There’s a tremendous amount of engineering and electrical services work that go into that. And so that’s the work that we do. And we think of ourselves as the enablers for those [manufacturers and electric vehicle supply equipment providers].

LaNeve: Yeah. To give you a use-case example, many of our current customer base are large auto dealerships, or where a particular owner will have, you know, 15-20, in one case 75, dealerships. And when you go into one of those, A) you got to do an electrical study. Do they have enough power coming into the facility, are they fast chargers or are they Level 2 chargers? I think there’s a perception out there this is like plugging in a new refrigerator. And it’s much more complicated work in there, especially on the large-scale jobs that we’re doing.

Brancaccio: And you can just see how that expertise that you offer would be useful if, for instance, they’re planning some new subdivision somewhere of condos, and they’re like, “Gee, the future means we should have some electrical vehicle chargers.” They don’t even know which ones to get, you know, which plugs should be offered, let alone how to connect it to the electrical system.

LaNeve: That’s exactly right. It’s such a nascent business that we spent a lot of time on planning and education. In many cases, like you take the example you just gave of a multiunit, say, condo or apartment complex. Who’s paying for that electricity? If I have a gas vehicle, am I paying for my neighbor who’s got an electric vehicle? So how do you have a software solution that solves that? And many times we want a different transformer depending on the amount of fast chargers available, so that it’s capped off and it doesn’t affect the rest of the electrical infrastructure of the complex or the business. So these are tricky, complicated issues. It’s not, you know, deep-water drilling, but it’s more than, you know, an average electrical contracting job. It takes some expertise and some knowledge and education, and we’re laser-focused on it, especially in the auto vertical.

Brancaccio: So the bipartisan infrastructure act, I think, allocated, I was looking at the figure, I think it’s about 7½ billion dollars to help build out EV charging infrastructure. I mean, when you look at a number like that, how do you evaluate it? Is that, like, a decent amount of money or a start? How would you characterize it?

Fox: Yeah, I think, simply put, it’s sand in the ocean. There’s going to be a lot more spent around that. If you look at, you know, globally, the big automotive manufacturer OEMs have committed to spend about a trillion dollars in the transition here. So when you think about a number like $7.5 billion, it’s relatively small in the grand scheme of how big this market is, especially for the infrastructure.

LaNeve: Yeah, David, we believe by the year 2035, the vast majority of production will be electric vehicles, probably 90% or more with that 12- or 13-year run, as every year there’s going to be a million or so more added in the production schedule. So you get to 2035, you’ve got 80 million, roughly, pure EVs on the road. Well, there’s still 220 million internal combustion engine, gas and diesel, vehicles. It will take another 20-30 years to burn through those. So this is a 30-40-year infrastructure buildup. And to Andrew’s point, the 7½ billion, not to sound trite, is a great start. There’s also local incentives available through the utilities. In some cases there’s tax credits for local businesses, depending on the use case and if they’re public-facing. So there’s going to have to continue to be government support, private support. And, you know, customers will as they continue to buy these vehicles and see that there’s charging available, that’ll reduce the range anxiety that I think some people feel. It is a great experience to drive an electric car. I mean it’s very, very different and there’s a lot to like about it, but customers need to feel secure in that decision, [that] they’re not going to be stranded and that there’s ample charging available to them.

Brancaccio: I know, I’m talking to you from New York City right now. But we’ve got family in D.C. [On] current technology, I can get down there with one charge. But I have family in Maine, and I can’t make it on one charge with any existing electric car. And you know, if that’s my only car, I gotta be able to get up there without a lot of rigmarole at that stop to recharge.

LaNeve: Exactly. And it just shows you how much infrastructure needs to go in. I live and work here in Detroit, the motor capital of the world. My commute’s about 20 miles, and you know, the little town that I live in, the little town where our office is where I commute, I don’t see a charger. So people eventually are gonna start seeing chargers, whether they’re at gas stations or depots or supermarkets or their health club. And when that happens, that’ll all be part of the natural evolution toward these kinds of vehicles. And like we said, it’s a big job to do. So I feel like it bodes very well for our company. And it’s fun to be in a business like this that’s going to have so many tailwinds for not just the year or two, but for decades.

Brancaccio: Andrew, how did you get into this?

Fox: I was an early investor in a company called Lime scooters. And after that investment, I saw the Achilles’ heel of this entire EV movement was a lack of supporting infrastructure.

Brancaccio: So Mark, I mean, you’ve been in the industry long enough to have started out as an internal combustion man. What made you see the light?

LaNeve: You know, what’s funny is — I do think myself a touch old school — but when I left, you know, I had a great career with both General Motors and Ford, and when I left Ford, and it was two years ago now, I knew I wanted to work. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go, and then I talked to Andrew and I listened to the vision he had for Charge of being part of the infrastructure build for both wireless broadband and EVs. And EVs I happen to know something about — I was heavily involved with the launch of the Ford Mach-E and the Lightning full-sized pickup truck. But I hadn’t given much thought to charging. I was more on the vehicle and pricing and equipment and how we’re going to market it. And then it occurred to me that Andrew and the other founders are on to something. This is going to be a multidecade, trillion-dollar type of investment to get EV charging, you know, in [a] place that will, in essence, do what the whole gasoline and diesel infrastructure does today. And I thought it’d be fun and be quite a journey, and it’s turned out to be that way. It’s an exciting business to be in, and we’re just at the very, very, very beginning of it. First inning, as Andrew says.

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