ChargePoint CEO Calls for EV Charging’s ‘WiFi Moment

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ChargePoint CEO Calls for EV Charging's 'WiFi Moment

Remembering a time when connecting new devices to WiFi wasn’t guaranteed may seem distant today, especially since many people have never faced such challenges. Not so long ago, smartphones, tablets, gaming devices, and computers often struggled to connect to various WiFi networks.

Wireless internet is everywhere now, but achieving near-perfect compatibility across diverse devices required significant effort. Rick Wilmer, who has extensive experience in the tech and broadband industries, recalls the struggle. Now, as the CEO of ChargePoint, a leading electric vehicle charging company, he finds similarities in ensuring EVs can charge at any station.

Wilmer reminisces about the days of interoperability labs, “We had every laptop, phone, tablet, and device in our lab, connecting them to the WiFi network to ensure compatibility,” he explained to InsideEVs. He sees a direct parallel with his current challenge of making electric vehicle charging universally accessible.

Rick Wilmer, who assumed ChargePoint’s CEO role in November after serving as COO, prioritizes making EV charging as universal and effortlessly expected as WiFi. However, achieving this universality presents multiple challenges in the current landscape.

ChargePoint, like many in the EV charging sector, faces financial hurdles. The company reported a $94.7 million loss in the last quarter of 2023, with a 24% decrease in year-over-year revenue. Amidst a declining stock price, Wilmer succeeded Pasquale Romano as CEO, and the company also saw the departure of CFO Rex Jackson.

Despite these challenges, there are positive signs. ChargePoint’s revenue increased by 8% from 2022, and its network continues to expand. Notable developments include the launch of the Mercedes-Benz High-Power Charging Network and Volvo’s Starbucks network, both utilizing ChargePoint’s hardware, marking significant achievements.

However, the company navigates through high capital expenditures, rising interest rates, and an unpredictable economic future, deterring many from investing in charging infrastructure. Yet, Wilmer observes an encouraging trend: charger use is outpacing installations, indicating growing demand among EV drivers for accessible charging at businesses and government facilities. This demand suggests that locations without chargers may lose visitors to those that do.

Ensuring charger compatibility is crucial to prevent driver frustration, underscoring Wilmer’s commitment to widespread, reliable EV charging access.

Rick Wilmer highlights the complexity of North America’s EV charging landscape, now navigating a transition across three main formats. The shift involves moving away from older CHAdeMO connectors, prevalent in vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, accommodating the widespread use of the Combined Charging System (CCS) plug, and leaning towards the emerging preference for Tesla’s North American Charging Standard (NACS) plug. This evolution sees automakers gradually adopting the NACS standard, initially through adapters and eventually directly from production. This diversity presents a unique challenge for ChargePoint, which has historically focused on the first two plug types until recently.

Wilmer is addressing a common frustration among EV drivers: arriving at a fast-charging station only to find incompatible plugs. His goal is to ensure no parking spot is tied to a single connector type, a transition he expects to span years as CCS and CHAdeMO connectors gradually exit the market.

ChargePoint’s solution involves deploying units equipped with both CCS and NACS plugs. Wilmer envisions a seamless charging experience, where the company’s mobile app identifies the customer’s vehicle type upon arrival and automatically offers the appropriate connector. This strategy aims to simplify the charging process for all EV drivers, reflecting ChargePoint’s commitment to accessibility and convenience in the evolving charging infrastructure.

Addressing the hardware complexities in EV charging is only part of the challenge. The diversity in software, including various battery management systems, internal software configurations, electrical architectures, and software versions across different EVs, adds another layer of complexity. ChargePoint is also adapting to charge a broader range of electric vehicles, such as heavy-duty trucks and even locomotives, further complicating the landscape.

ChargePoint tackles these challenges through exhaustive testing at their advanced lab in Campbell, California. Rick Wilmer describes this process as a “brute force” method reminiscent of his WiFi troubleshooting days, highlighting instances where vehicles would stop charging due to automaker updates affecting performance. “You’ve got to plug the car in and test it,” Wilmer emphasizes, underscoring ChargePoint’s commitment to thorough testing as the only way forward.

Moreover, Wilmer is addressing maintenance issues, historically a sore point for EV drivers encountering non-functional chargers. Through remote monitoring, ChargePoint can swiftly identify and address downtime, with Wilmer noting that “99%” of station owners are promptly responsive to fixing issues.

Wilmer also advocates for the widespread availability of chargers, including the slower, standard-speed Level 2 chargers, not just the faster DC ones. He observes a growing trend where institutions increasingly seek to attract EV drivers to their locations, indicating a shift towards more inclusive and EV-friendly infrastructures.

Currently, ChargePoint is navigating a critical phase of its journey, characterized by resilience and strategic agility. Despite facing financial scrutiny, it maintains its status as the largest public EV charging network in the U.S., predominantly featuring Level 2 chargers. The charging sector might be on the cusp of further consolidation, akin to the reduction in the number of hard drive manufacturers, a comparison drawn by Rick Wilmer.

The ultimate aim for the industry mirrors the evolution of WiFi—achieving a state where EV charging is ubiquitous and becomes a seamless, almost unnoticed part of daily life.

Wilmer is optimistic about reaching this milestone, predicting the EV charging industry will mature, standardize, and achieve tight interoperability, much like other technologies before it. “This industry is going to get there as well,” he asserts, viewing the current challenges as merely the growing pains of a new technology on its path to becoming taken for granted by society.

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