Interview: Mark Braby of ChargePoint

14 November 2018

14 November 2018

In our latest Autovista Group interview, we speak to Mark Braby, head of strategic partnerships at ChargePoint, about the current state of the electric vehicle infrastructure in Europe and what could drive mass adoption of the technology.

What is the current state of Europe’s charging infrastructure?

The European market has evolved differently from what we’ve seen in the US. It is pushed by public money and public tenders, and so whenever you have this, it creates the market in different ways. In the US, we’ve started with workplace charging, as well as retail and hospitality charging where they have different incentives or motivation for putting this in – whether it is an amenity to their employees or getting people into their stores, rooms, or loyalty programs.

The UK and Europe, in general, has been driven by public tender money, so it has resulted in a different type of market. Many times, it is a ′cheaper’ type of infrastructure, not networked, so what we think we are bringing to the market is sophisticated network charging, supported by software.

For the UK, the thing we stand behind is the need for an open network, so we push for open charging through other charging networks. You can do that through peer-to-peer agreements. What we’ve seen in the UK are more closed types of networks, something we want to change, to create a much more seamless experience for the driver.

How important is roaming to making EV technology more accessible to drivers?

It is critical. You have seen it in telecoms, in ATMs, it is important to figure out. We need the experience of charging to be as easy as possible and simple for the driver. Once you keep them happy, you get an increase in EV purchases, which leads to more infrastructure being introduced. It needs to be simple, and there should not be any price attached – it should not cost any more for a driver to be on a ChargePoint network or a different network. We advocate for free roaming. Opening that up across borders, pan-European is critical for the industry.

How key is the uptake of EVs and PHEVs to the development of charging infrastructure?

We typically see that the infrastructure can be a leading indicator. Sales of charging points pick up before EV sales do.

What we have seen in the US, where most of our experience is, is that once the infrastructure is in place in an area, EVs are 20 times more likely to show up. So for example, if a charging point is installed at a workplace, it is twenty times more likely that employees will then invest in an electric vehicle.

I do not think it is a lack of infrastructure that has held EV sales back to this point. It is more about the lack of choice in EVs. However, we are now starting to see cars that are designed for the driver, rather than designs of the past that were simply about showing off EV technology.

For example, you look at Daimler coming out with its EQC, or Jaguar with the I-Pace, these look more like a typical design compared to a petrol vehicle, and you would not think it was powered by different technology to look at it. This is really going to drive EV as an option, and therefore infrastructure deployment as well.

Will electric drivetrain technology compete with petrol and diesel in the commercial vehicle sector?

The commercial vehicle will lead the passenger vehicle in many markets, with cities looking to cut down on congestion and pollution. Certainly, there is a large number of CV manufacturers now providing choices, which cost slightly above petrol and internal combustion engine vehicles. However, the cost of fuel and maintenance over time means the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a CV now will compare favourably with an EV CV. Also, as batteries get cheaper, this will help the market.

Batteries are the one thing at the moment that is adding to the larger cost of EVs, so this is only going to get better, and therefore deployment will improve across not just the commercial vehicle sector, but in all markets.

How important is the fleet sector to EV uptake, and does this tie in with the deployment of infrastructure at workplaces?

Passenger vehicle sales in the future will be driven by transportation companies, such as Uber, Lyft and Waymo, and with car-sharing companies such as car2go and DriveNow. The cost of taking a ride in a fleet vehicle is going to outweigh the cost of owning a car. Therefore, while we think about the long-term fleets being in the commercial vehicle sector, in reality, fleet sales of EVs will be driven by these markets.

With governments looking to cut EV incentives, do you think this is a good or bad move for the market?

We think long-term that cutting incentives is fine. There may be a short-term blip regarding demand, but long-term the industry needs to stand on its own two feet if that’s the way it is going to survive and be mass market.

Incentives are key to kick-start a market and drive early innovation, but we think it is a logical next step for these to be then cut, allowing the market to stand on its own. We think we are right at the tipping point of mass adoption, and once this happens, there will be no need for government subsidies.

We have a plethora of new cars coming out that we think drivers will like to adopt based on drivability and design. Currently, some EVs are still highly expensive, but manufacturers are aware of this and trying to address it. Soon there will be a bunch of vehicles launched that will be in the mass-market profile, leading to more and more adoption. Consumer awareness today is also high, so people want EVs, regardless of incentives or not.

How important is a standardised plug type?

I think for the driver it is important to standardise, and we would love to see a standard. However, for us, we can adapt to any standard out there. We can take any plug type and adapt it to a smart connected, networked charger.

Having three different connector standards is not good for anyone. We hope to come to a standardised market soon for the driver.