Taking Charge


ChargePoint is truly ahead of the game. The California based company predicted that electric vehicles (EVs) were the wave of the future – and developed an innovative charging infrastructure before EVs even hit the market.

“Three years before there were any [electric] cars we knew that a very successful business model would be to develop a crowd funded, networked, public charging infrastructure,” explains Dimitrios Papadogonas, Vice President of Marketing for ChargePoint.

Developing a strategy around a non-existent industry was a bold move. “At that time, no one knew for sure what it would be – electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell cars, biofuel power cars – but they knew some new form of alternative energy for powering cars would take the lead and represent a new change in the automotive industry,” Mr. Papadogonas recalls. “Richard Lowenthal believed that it would be EVs because they simply made the most sense. So he formed a company on the idea that electric vehicles would win out.”

Mr. Lowenthal, the founder and current CTO and his co-founders also believed that it would take a completely new business model to keep EVs charged when they hit the market. “The founders of the company believed that charging at home simply wouldn’t be good enough,” Mr. Papadogonas explains. “Because it takes a while to replenish the energy in your [electric] car, drivers will always want to keep their cars topped up. Whenever you are parked for more than an hour, you would want to plug in your car and put energy into it.”

These physicists also knew that a traditional gas station concept would not work. “They understood that you could never drive until your car’s empty and then go to a fuel depot and stand there, plug in your car, and fill it up in three minutes. That gas station model simply doesn’t work for EVs because the laws of physics prevent you from putting that much energy into the car that quickly. You just can’t fill an empty battery in two or three minutes.”

The team had to figure out a way to make charging practical and efficient – and readily available. This meant that EV drivers would need access to thousands of chargers. “How are you going to put all this infrastructure in?” the founders wondered. “It simply costs too much money for a company to make all those chargers, to pay for them, distribute them, and try and get revenue off of selling electricity,” Mr. Papadogonas points out. “It is also way too much money for the government to fund; it is billions of dollars. So we understood that the only way that public charging would proliferate quickly is if it was funded by the private sector.”

Under the ChargePoint model, each property owner pays for the charging station being used on their property. Of course, the only way that this model works is if the property owner is motivated to pay for the station. “They would if it were good for their business,” Mr. Papadogonas explains. “That led our founders very quickly to the conclusion that public charging will have to be networked. Because if it is not networked, there is no way that it would provide enough value for a property owner.”

Network charging, Mr. Papadogonas explains, “simply means that the stations are intelligent.” These smart stations are able to provide property owners with the data they need to manage their stations in a way that is best for their business. A networked station not only tells owners how their station is functioning, it also allows these owners to control who uses the station. Without networking, “a station is just a plug,” Mr. Papadogonas points out. “Anyone can drive up to it and plug their car in. With network charging you can select who gets to charge on your station. If you are a workplace you can have it so that only your employees can use your station; if you are a retailer, you can have it so that only preferred customers can use your charging station. You can do whatever you want.” Network charging also allows property owners to set their own pricing policy and to adjust the power levels.

This ability to customize the station to the specific needs of the property owner is key. “It gives you all the flexibility and control to manage the asset in a way that makes sense for your business. And every business – whether you are a workplace, a retailer, a hospital, a municipality, or a parking garage operator – has different needs, so you would want to use your station differently.” Furthermore, ChargePoint is the only company that provides this leading edge technology. “Richard Lowenthal actually has the patent on smart charging.”

ChargePoint has also been successful because of its holistic approach to the marketplace. “We look at the whole EV ecosystem,” Mr. Papadogonas explains. “We call it a 4 C strategy because we look at the car company, the channel, the customers, and the consumers. That is why we have become three companies in one; we are a hardware company that makes the infrastructure, we are a software company that makes the cloud based services, and we are like a social media company.” The social media component comes into play because the team produces a mobile app to show drivers where charging stations are located and whether or not they are currently being used.

Because ChargePoint’s founders pioneered their business model and their technology, the company stands alone in the marketplace. The small amount of competition that does exist uses a very different business model to ChargePoint. These competitors give the charging station to the property owner, but they impose a pricing policy and take a percentage off the top, much like with a vending machine. The model simply hasn’t caught on as well, allowing ChargePoint to become the industry’s dominate player. “We have over 16,000 places where you can charge on our network now,” Mr. Papadogonas shares. “Our public network is four or five times bigger than our nearest competitor.” In fact, a whopping 70 percent of all the public chargers currently in the U.S. are ChargePoint chargers and “about 90 percent of everything going into the ground is a ChargePoint charger.”

ChargePoint’s success is bound to increase even further as EVs gain ground. “The market is growing substantially every year,” Mr. Papadogonas points out. “Literally every forecast is saying that by 2020 there will be just over 3 million EVs on the road.” With about 180,000 EVs on the road today, that is a substantial increase in a dramatically short span of time.

ChargePoint is working to stay ahead of the game as the market continues to evolve and grow. For instance, the team has partnered with several automotive companies as these companies begin to roll out EVs. “We are the only EV charging company that is working with car companies. It is part of that holistic strategy of ours.” The goal is to help these automotive companies better integrate the latest charging technology into their vehicles. “We are trying to figure out how to make owning an EV a more enjoyable experience,” Mr. Papadogonas explains. “We want to really enhance the experience of ownership.” BMW and Nissan will both be integrating ChargePoint technology into the in-dash navigation systems of their new EVs. “That level of automation – taking valuable data and integrating it right into the car – is the next step in the EV revolution.” A number of other automotive companies have begun to include a ChargePoint welcome card in their new EVs to make it easy for new owners to sign up and start charging.

ChargePoint is eager to bring its innovative business model and technology to an even larger market. “We want to figure out a way to extend our success in the public sector to the home sector,” Mr. Papadogonas reports. The team has also set their sights on international expansion. ChargePoint is already the largest player in Australia, and the company is currently working to break into the European market. After pioneering a brand new way to do business in the U.S., the team is ready to replicate their success on a global scale.

For more information about ChargePoint, please visit http://www.chargepoint.com/

May 29, 2020, 2:51 AM EDT