Ionity is a joint venture set up in 2017 by Ford, BMW, Daimler and the Volkswagen Group to install a network of fast electric chargers across Europe. The company also has signed agreements with oil giants Shell and Eni to build chargers at their fuel stations. Michael Hajesch, Ionity’s managing director, previously was senior manager of BMW’s i electric subbrand. He spoke with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Nick Gibbs about Ionity’s goals.
You have 28 charging stations with an additional 44 under construction. Your goal is 400 by 2020. What happens after that?
That is the ultimate goal as of today. We were only formed in November 2017, but we have done the preparatory work. You can imagine all the legal implications of establishing sites in 23 different countries with different legal conditions.
What is Ionity’s business model?
To first increase the availability of the stations and then offer charging for customers. They have to pay 8 euros (about $9) flat for one charge as an intermediate cost. When the time is right, we may introduce a separate pricing scheme.
Are you covering costs?
What is breakeven?
I can’t say. We are an infrastructure business and typically you need different investment horizons compared with car companies. It’s also based on e-mobility predictions on how fast the different markets will evolve. Nobody predicted five years ago that 40 percent of new vehicles bought in Norway would be EVs. So the question is: How fast will the UK, France and Germany, Spain and all the other countries come up with new vehicle fleets? Those projections went into our business plan. It’s a decent plan.
How important is infrastructure to the success of EVs?
It’s absolutely key. If it’s missing, the end customer is very unlikely to choose an EV. We are tackling the long-distance drive with a plan to establish Ionity stations with six charging poles every 120 km on average on Europe’s main highways.
Who can use your stations?
All vehicles using CCS [the Combined Charging System]. It’s an open network. You either sign up with a mobility service provider that includes our network, or you show up without any contract, register and start the charging process.
What percentage of EVs have CCS?
It will be above 80 percent in the future. Everybody is using CCS except Nissan and Tesla [and Mitsubishi]. It’s a European standard. Renault is bringing a vehicle to market with CCS capability in 2019. We have a clear mission to make it as easy as possible to rely on one standard.
How will you stop people from overrunning their charging times?
I can think in the future of motivating them with a blocking fee after, say, 45 minutes, especially at peak times.
Fuel stations often say they make money from their shops, not the fuel they sell. Do you think you will ever make money from just charging?
It depends on the frequency. In the beginning, clearly no, because the volume of battery-electric vehicles is still not there. In five years, and that is just around the corner, I would say we will have some very profitable stations for sure. Automakers invest billions to bring out new models, and when does it pay off? Afterward. It’s the same for us. We invest a lot and we get the money back later. Not in two years. It’s maybe eight or 10 years.
How do you shareholders benefits?
The core motivation was really to establish a long-term, stable company but also to solve the chicken-and-egg problem of charging, especially over long distances, instead of waiting for charge-point operators to solve it for them.
I guess capital investment is big, but then chargers are cheaper to run than fuel stations, right?
Yes. We need to put in transformers and grid connections and chargers. And then just run it and deliver.
What power can you deliver?
It is 350 kilowatts each. More and more vehicles are coming with the ability to charge faster. The standard is the same, the plug is the same, the system is the same, but the combination of voltage and amperage changes. The Porsche Taycan will be the first car that will really take it to the max.