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Fisker, EV Connect 'streamline' car charging infrastructure

Fisker, EV Connect 'streamline' car charging infrastructure

Posting in Energy

Fisker Automotive and EV Connect partner on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. CEO Jordan Ramer explains why a streamlined, turnkey approach is crucial for EV adoption.

Fisker Automotive and EV Connect on Wednesday announced an exclusive service partnership that helps bridge the gap between the automaker's luxury electric cars and the charging equipment necessary to keep them fueled.

Under the agreement, EV Connect will install and maintain electric vehicle supply equipment for owners of Fisker's popular Karma model as well as at 47 Fisker dealerships in the U.S. and Canada.

(Red pumps, apparently, are not included.)

The point of the deal is to make the the customer experience seamless: via an online portal, EV Connect begins the installation process while the buyer is still at the dealership and handles the permitting, contracting and other headaches of installing car chargers at their home or office.

It's called "turnkey" service for a reason. (Vroom, vroom.) To find out more, SmartPlanet spoke with EV Connect CEO Jordan Ramer.

SP: To begin, a simple question: why you?

JR: We're a turnkey electric vehicle solution provider. We're focused on helping our customers get EV ready. Some of those things are what Fisker was interested in. We're focused on delivering a service that's connected to a luxury brand like Fisker. We're managing a large nationwide network of licensed [employees]. We've developed a proprietary web-based, cloud-based platform.

From a vehicle manufacturer standpoint, they're focused on the car. It's challenging to bring a car to market. The infrastructure is instrumental to an electric vehicle. They know they need to partner with someone who can support them. Our team goes back 15 years to the last iteration of EVs. The California Energy Commission picked us for grants.

SP: Why didn't streamlining work the first go-around?

JR: When you're looking at technology adoption, the key to getting out of the very early days -- the mid '90s -- is providing a total solution to the customer. The EV driver, the site host -- they need to have a complete solution. We're a one-stop shop. Installation, permitting, ongoing maintenance -- we bring that to the Fisker brand and the experience to streamline the transition to electricity as a fuel.

One thing that's critical is standards. Last time, when our team was out there helping to build infrastructure, each vehicle manufacturer had its own charge station. If you were driving a Saturn EV1, you had to find a charging station that worked with that car. That's no longer an issue. There's a standard connector and every station works with every car.

Another key thing is from a technology standpoint, batteries. We're now able to provide ranges for cars that are usable for 90 percent or more of users on a daily basis. Those are the kinds of things that will help make this stick this time around.

We're actively helping to set additional standards and regulations around being able to resell electricity and communication between the vehicle and the charge station. We want to make the charging experience the best possible for EV drivers.

SP: There's a debate over where the best place for EV chargers is: home, office, public and so forth. What's your company's view?

JR: EV Connect's opinion is the majority -- perhaps the vast majority -- of charging will happen at home. It's comfortable from a consistency basis. Secondarily, we see a lot of workplace charging as well. A third is public places that drivers frequent -- those places will grow as there are more EV drivers, you will need more places beyond the home and workplace. It will perpetuate upon itself.

All of those things needs to happen.

We have two grants from the California Energy Commission: one is an upgrade program to upgrade existing infrastructure in California. Six hundred stations across 300 sites that will allow for a lot of public infrastructure. The other grant, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Metro, allows for deploying charging stations across stations. Those kinds of things are going to augment home and workplace charging.

It comes down to the customer experience. Vehicle manufacturers see the infrastructure as an extension of what they do. You want to make sure that the customer experience is at the highest possible level.

SP: Such coordination usually doesn't occur this early in the product cycle. For example, it took many years before Apple successfully positioned itself at the center of the gadgets it sells, with the Apple Store; despite its success, its competitors still haven't felt the need to match this approach. Why does it come so early with EVs? Are companies scared customers will turn away from EVs?

JR: What's unique about what we're doing is that Fisker is the only car company that's offering a streamlined charging solution. The experience starts at the dealer. They're a single point of contact for that. The process can be viewed online with real-time monitoring.

It's a point of differentiation for Fisker. We haven't seen that yet for other vehicle brands.

We want to streamline electricity as a fuel, to the mainstream. Our proprietary web-based workforce platform allows for efficient allocation of resources around deployment. To do that, we are innovating to streamline that process by interacting with permitting authorities -- a difficult task to deploy a station in the home or workplace -- and utilities, so that that can happen effectively and efficiently. We're also working on streamlining our certified contractor network…previously it was ad hoc and it would take a month or two for deployment.

Unlike a new technology category -- a laptop or tablet PC -- you're dealing with a car, which has been around for a century. It's a new drivetrain for the car, but the vehicle manufacturers are driving it partly because they know for folks to change their behavior and modify it to an electric vehicle you have to make sure they're comfortable with that.

If you're looking to jump to the mainstream, you have to. The mid- to late '90s were innovators. We're at the early adopter phase. To make that jump, you have to provide something that's complete and turnkey.

SP: Yet we don't see much traction with this for, say, residential solar panels.

JR: If your solar panel doesn't turn on, you still have your utility [company]. If your car doesn't work, your life comes to a standstill.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure