Europewide electric vehicle charger operator Ionity added a new partner in September as Hyundai-Kia joined the joint venture set up by Ford Motor, BMW Group, Daimler and Volkswagen Group in 2017. At that time, the goal was to install a network of 400 fast EV chargers across Europe by the end of 2020. The company is led by Michael Hajesch, a former manager of BMW's electric i subbrand, who spoke with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Nick Gibbs about what comes next for the fast-growing company.
Your goal was to have 400 charging stations by the end of 2020. Where are you now and what's next?
We have 140 live, and 50 under construction. The next step is a strategic question that we are working to answer. We could build another 200 along main highways, or go into cities, or form some technical partnerships. There are many business opportunities.
When will you decide?
The plan is to at least get clarification by year-end or the first or second quarter of 2020.
Would you consider taking over other EV charging operators?
It's too early to answer that.
What's your profitability timetable?
When we are talking about infrastructure, it's typically longer than getting returns from selling vehicles. It's a huge investment, and we are at the very early stage of EV market penetration. It might take years to become profitable, but we are very confident we will achieve this by taking a strategic, longer-term approach.
You recently added Hyundai Motor as a shareholder. What does the influx of cash that comes with adding Hyundai and Kia enable Ionity to do?
Money is one thing, but what is more important is that this shows the strategic commitment of the industry. It's good to have the international engineering experience from an Asian perspective.
What else do the automakers bring along with their investment?
Customers, vehicles and a lot of expertise in terms of technology. When you are sitting in your vehicle, the only thing you want is a seamless, reliable, comfortable charging process. To do that you have to test things up front, with the vehicles, the infrastructure, with the back-end platform, with the roaming platform. End-to-end testing is key.
And what do the automakers offer their customers?
Typically, they offer a charging service to the end customer either by themselves or through a separate company. The MSP [mobility service provider] is our customer on the B2B [business-to-business] side. They bring the customer -- what package they offer is up to the MSP. ChargeNow [owned by BP Chargemaster], MercedesMe, Porsche Charging Service, New Motion [owned by Shell] are all MSPs.
Currently, you have fixed-rate charging at 8 euros or 8 pounds. Are there plans to change that?
Yes. Eight euros per charge was an introductory pricing strategy we offered as we built up our network. As we progress, and in response to regulations in several countries, we are preparing kilowatt-based pricing in the future.
Would you consider dynamic pricing -- raising the cost of charging during times of peak demand?
Dynamic pricing has pros and cons. Because we are in the energy sector, we are not only dealing with demand response. Other factors are energy availability, grid stability and so on. Theoretically, we should think about dynamic pricing, but the reality is that today kilowatt-based pricing is easy to understand. Maybe in five to six years we might see these kind of changes.
If you decided one day to go into home charging and your customers wanted the same type of fast charger you provide, is that possible?
It will not happen purely because of the cost. If you install a wallbox that's about 1,000 euros. If you move to DC charging beyond 22kW, we are easily talking about 20,000 euros.
Are you looking at the possibility of creating more amenities such as cafes around the charging points?
Our main approach is to enter into contracts with site locations where the amenities are available already. At the speed we are rolling out the network, we don't have time to take care of things ranging from toilets to food to newspapers or coffee. We clearly see the potential from these concessions, but the question is: How will it impact our business model.