The Role of OEMs in ZEV Fleet Charging

Published on
May 30, 2024
Written by
Jonathan Colbert
Read time
4 mins
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The Role of OEMs in ZEV Fleet Charging

Having spent a significant portion of my career developing EV charging infrastructure for auto OEMs (Mercedes-Benz and Rivian), I was thrilled to join the panel, Building Your Fleet Directly with Auto OEMs, at the recent EV Charging Summit. The panel was moderated by Jim Dore (VP of Service Solutions at Chateau Energy Solutions); my fellow panelists included Jarred Knecht (President at ProEV, a division of Electrical Components International) and Mark Thackeray (Head of Electromobility at Nikola).

One of the first questions Jim asked was, “What advice would you give to fleet operators looking to electrify?” We’re having this conversation with fleet operators every day at Voltera, and the answer is a long one. To make it concise, I said, “Begin with the end in mind; think about what you’re building towards. Get educated about the players in the ecosystem. Pick a strong partner who will take the lumps with you and guide you through the process.”

Begin with the end in mind  

One of the most significant hurdles fleet operators face is the lack of established requirements and standards for charging sites tailored to their specific needs. In lieu of existing requirements and standards, fleet operators should start begin with the end in mind (this is one of the solutions detailed in our recently released Playbook 4: EV Charging Infrastructure Design & Construction).

At Voltera, we begin every project by immersing ourselves in the fleet's operational realities, gaining a thorough understanding of their unique circumstances. This includes analyzing factors such as vehicle types, daily mileage, charging patterns, and future growth projections. This knowledge is the foundation for designing a site that optimizes charging and power requirements, ensuring the infrastructure is not only fit-for-purpose but also future-proofed.

Get educated about the players in the ecosystem

Another piece of advice we give to fleet operators ready to deploy EVs at scale is to get to know the charging options. The landscape of commercial EV charging solutions has evolved significantly over the last decade. In the beginning, public charging networks were the only options, and while fleets could use them, they were really developed for consumers. So as fleets began to accelerate and scale their transitions to ZEV – at the same time consumer demand for public charging was growing rapidly – public charging became increasingly unviable for fleets.

Seeing the enormous potential ($98 billion US + EU market for fleet EV charging by 2030 according to analysis by Boston Consulting Group), new providers began entering the market to cater specifically to fleets. Some – like logistics-focused real estate owners and distributed energy providers – were looking to add value to current offerings. Others were legacy fuel providers looking to transition their own businesses from fossil fuels. And still others were purpose-built new market entrants.  

This evolution has driven innovation, which is a good thing of course. It has also made it more difficult for fleets to compare providers.

For fleets there are ultimately five prominent solutions: charging networks, Charging as a Service, Charging Infrastructure as a Service, Fleet as a Service, and real estate owners. (These categories combine terms widely used in the industry as well as some of our own terminology.) Some companies offer more than one solution (for example, charging networks and Charging as a Service). The companies listed here are for illustrative purposes only; it is not an exhaustive list of market players.

Learn more in the blog post The EV Charging Infrastructure Ecosystem, Explained.

Work the timelines

In the early days of electrification, many fleet operators focused primarily or even exclusively on when their EVs would be delivered. That has put many in the position now of having the vehicles and not the charging infrastructure; developing a large-scale charging facility, or even bringing charging infrastructure to an existing depot, takes 18 months or longer.

At Voltera, we get out in front of that 18-month lead time by proactively acquiring property and beginning the power procurement process in high-demand markets. We work with our partners throughout the value chain to understand the landscape and where their customers and partners are going so we can shorten development timelines.

Deliver on experience  

Just as fleet operators work directly with auto OEMs, so do auto OEMs work directly with charging infrastructure providers. At Voltera, for example, we are partnering with a number of automakers – including heavy-duty truck manufacturers as well as passenger car companies. For the latter, in particular, having a national charging network to serve drivers with a branded charging experience has become an important value add and differentiator.  

As Andrew Cornelia, President & CEO of Mercedes-Benz High-Power Charging North America, explained in the conference opening panel, “For Mercedes, charging is both existential and strategic. We manufacture cars but what we sell is the experience, and with EVs, charging is part of that. For a long time, services have been part of our business model and the way we extend our brand promise beyond the vehicle sale; now that includes energy.”

Alex Schroeder, Chief Technology Officer at the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, talked about the development of the National Charging Experience Consortium, “intended to create a baseline for experience to set expectations.” The goal is to “improve and expand the charging network at the same time,” he said.

Deliver reliability

For widespread adoption of EVs by fleets and individuals, charging reliability is essential. Andrew from Mercedes advocated for a focus on “triple 9s” – 99.9% uptime – which he acknowledged is a significant shift “in terms of what we’re building and why.” Alex, of the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, explained why the agency set a reliability goal of 97%: “This is just our first step in the process. We’d love to see triple 9s. But the industry isn’t even delivering 97% right now.”

Designed to help drive higher reliability, the National Charging Experience Consortium is developing things like standardized error codes for charging stations. “Very advanced communication between the vehicle and the charger needs to happen to protect the driver and the vehicle. So we’re working with auto OEMs and charging equipment manufacturers to figure out how to standardize that handshake between the vehicle and the charger.”

The future is bright

When asked what I think is in store for the industry, I explained, “Over time it gets easier. We’ll see more standardization. As more fleets and individuals adopt EVs, there will be better understanding of the technology and how best to deploy it. We’re all taking some lumps now but it’s the process of developing best practices.”