I got the chance to attend the opening of the first Mercedes-Benz charging hub in Atlanta this week. The announcement was covered in my article yesterday, and here is a direct link to their announcement. Before the opening, there was an opportunity to ask questions of our special roundtable panel, including:
Here were some of the more interesting questions and answers (edited for brevity and clarity).
Zachary Hansen with the Atlanta Journal Constitution: To talk a little bit more about locations of where these are going to be opening up, what’s the strategy about trying to get people to use the station, convenience, easing into locations.
Andrew Cornelia: I would say our network strategy is simple. We want to be where people are today and where they’re going tomorrow. So we’re not building a broad coverage network. We’re not looking to just put pins on the map. We’re looking to really help move the industry forward and so help drive up adoption in those days with high-end penetration, but also help build ahead of the curve. We want to solve the chicken and the egg and provide critical infrastructure to support that you get adoption.
Paul Fosse from CleanTechnica: As an EV owner for 13 years — first a Nissan LEAF and then later a Tesla — when you look at charging, how I use charging is very different for day-to-day commuting versus taking long trips. Which are you focusing on?
Andrew Cornelia: So, I’ve always said that charging should be where we live or shop and play. We’re really focused on the shop and play and really integrating charging into our everyday lives, charging done while it actually fades into the background of our lives. It’s not about the charging; it’s about what you do while you charge. So our partnership strategy is clear. We want to put charging in those retail locations where we can have a great cup of coffee or we can have a great restaurant, we can have green space, you can take your dog out for a walk. We’ve done that with Simon. We’ve done that with Buc-ee’s. We’ve done that here at our location behind the building, where we provide it around identity building when amenities are not available to really think about that experience of charging, which is what you do while you charge.
Camilla Domina from NPR (National Public Radio): Lots of conversations lately about whether the pace of EV adoption has perhaps been overestimated. Can you comment?
Franz Reiner: You know where we are today is that we don’t have enough charging in the ground. At the end of the decade, we need 10× what we have today to support our 2030 electrification goals. So, as much as there are market conditions that make the conditions difficult, I think, you know, if you zoom out, we’re committed to the long-term effort of going electric and that’s what this effort is, which is building out a multi-decade pursuit towards that goal at first.
The Atlanta Voice: According to the press release, the charging stations, the chargers themselves, are open to all EV brands. How important was that in order for MBUSA to achieve their overall goals of making sure that you guys penetrate the market and also make sure that you guys have maintained your brand recognition.
Franz Riener: First of all, it’s right that we are going to have it open to the public, and we see ourselves that we want to also support the transition to electric electrification. So it’s not an exclusive product. It’s for everybody. And what we want to do is we want to make sure that everybody has the same experience — that is definitely something which we’re striving for. There will be some functions which are just for the MB community. For example, like reservations, so that is something we’re looking into right now. But the charging stations will be open to public for all electric vehicles.
Eileen from Newsweek: How would the retail partnerships be decided upon and how does the cost burden work itself out, amongst those partners?
Andrew Cornelia: Good question. You know, for us, again, I’ll highlight our network strategy, which is simple. We want to be where drivers are today and where they’re going tomorrow. So, as much as it is about, you know, partner selection, it’s also about a customer centric approach, which is really thinking about not just the Mercedes driver, but it’s Ron’s comment that it’s all drivers and what we want to do while we charge. So, for us, it’s about providing convenient, accessible quality, experiential charging, and that’s looking at the market saying, ‘Where do we want to stop? How do we want to spend our time?’ Our network is the fastest network in North America. It’s up to 400 kilowatts per station. So that’s about full charge and the time it takes to get a cup of coffee or have a quick bite. So that’s how we’re thinking about the charging experience, really paired seamlessly with our retail partnerships.
Andrew Lambert with InsideEVs: Just taking, like, taking a look at the landscape of the — especially the United States, most manufacturers don’t enter the charging stage besides for Tesla and Rivian waypoints, but especially with legacy automakers, what’s the political rationale for doing the charging — sorry, entering the charging space?
Franz Reiner: It comes back to, you know, being and spearheading the step of transformation. I think this is the key. We know that you know the anxiety of the customers is when you get a full electric car, where can you charge it and what is the time you spend at the charger and where’s the location? So, we said, you know, if we want to transform the industry, we need to be part of the entire system, and that is what we do. We do have stations around the world by the way, maybe I can mention that. We just started — I mentioned Europe, with our 3,000 charging points with Ionity, that’s a joint venture. We also started in the Asian markets to do the same thing which we’re doing here right now. And we entered into a joint venture this year with six different auto OEMs and some of them are also US centered.
Paul Fosse: I noticed in the announcement that they said that you would be charging with all clean energy. That can be done onsite or 1000 miles away. Do you match the time? Or is it a daily average or monthly average?
Jon Yoder: It’s a great point. And first of all, thank you for asking about the clean energy component. It is a really important piece. I think the value of what Mercedes is bringing here is that commitment to moving to a decarbonized future. What’s important to emanate, what’s important to Mercedes-Benz’s charging network, is that for every kilowatt-hour that is taken off the grid and flows throughout those charging stations, the Mercedes-branded charging stations, that we’re adding that same kilowatt-hour onto the grid from a clean, green, renewable resource. And as you mentioned, that could be every location is different, right? It depends on the locale what’s permitted in the local permitting and the local utility, what the grid would permit and so on, so forth. So there’s no single answer for every single station. So, we have to be, we have to sort of address this on a station by station basis. You know, there will be in some cases onsite, renewable energy generation — we have that here at this site that we’re going to be commissioning today. It’s kind of hard to see from the ground — on the roof, you’ll see that there are solar panels on the roof of the canopy there. Of course, that doesn’t, that’s not going to provide power at night. So, we need to supplement that by putting electrons on the grid in remote locations. To answer your question, what we’re going for is on a monthly basis, we’re going to be making sure that we’re matching all the kilowatt-hours [taken from] the grid and going into those charging stations into the cars with clean, green kilowatt-hours that go on the grid each month.
Paul Fosse: You probably know the demand charges from utilities can be very high. Are you using any batteries to shave your demand charges?
Jon Yoder: Yeah, great point. So, again, it varies case by case, as I’m sure you know. Every utility has its own tariff arrangements that apply both the cost of solar power plus the demand charges. And so, in some places — in fact, most places — we don’t expect that we’re going to need to utilize batteries because the tariff programs already permit you to have essentially reasonable demand charges. In other places, though, we do expect that we likely will have to add batteries. So, it’s gonna be again case by case and you’re exactly right. The goal here is to make sure that we’re offering charging at a competitive rate. […] We want to offer a quality and reliability to customers. We want to build the best system in North America. But that doesn’t help if it’s too expensive. And so a big part of this is making sure we’re managing our energy to make it cost competitive.
Paul Fosse: It’s great that you are opening so many locations so that this is going to be the preferred charging destination for your auto customers, but we also have to be realistic that even if you meet all of your goals and they’re super reliable, you’re maybe going to be 10 to 20% of the charging stations out there. Are you going to support — for Mercedes vehicles — Plug&Charge on all your competitors’ charging stations?
Franz Riener: So, I’m gonna answer this more from a global perspective. As Dimitri was saying, for us, and maybe that also answers the question before a little bit, our interest is not just to sell fascinating products. It’s also to have a seamless integration of everything the customer is doing in the car or outside of the car. And I think that is something where we as an organization are really honing in right now on the customer focus and playing this entire ecosystem. So, for us, it’s important to understand if there’s a potential for us to create momentum, we will definitely try to integrate them — others — into that experience. We do that today already and Europe, where we have the first examples where we have others who are offering a charging experience where we have an integration layer and that we give them the opportunity to charge anywhere and everywhere and also with Plug&Charge.
Paul Fosse: So, to summarize, you are doing that today in Europe and with Electrify America and you intend to form more partnerships in the future.
Paul Fosse: Do you plan to have time-of-use or dynamic pricing?
Dimitris Psillakis: We are looking to build a profitable network, but we’re also looking to build all of our features, all of our pricing, in a simple way for the driver to understand. So we don’t want this to be a slot machine where, you know, you don’t know what you’re going to expect to be charged. We want to make sure that we communicate this effectively. We will be looking at evolving our network and the offering over time including how we think about pricing.
Paul Fosse: How does the infrastructure bill or the Inflation Reduction Act affect your plans?
Jon Yoder: The US has made a commitment at the federal level, but there’s also lots of state-level and even city-level types of programs that are supportive of building out more EV infrastructure. This is consistent with the sort of public policy goals behind those those initiatives. So, we are looking to utilize those programs — federal level, state level, city level, wherever we can. It is a very big help to add up this infrastructure.
This roundtable was great at getting more details behind this announcement and answering some more detailed questions about their future direction. I plan to post one more article with more pictures and my thoughts on this announcement.
Disclosure: I am a shareholder in Tesla [TSLA], BYD [BYDDY], Nio [NIO], XPeng [XPEV], Hertz [HTZ], NextEra Energy [NEP], and several ARK ETFs. But I offer no investment advice of any sort here. Mercedes-Benz covered my travel expenses to experience the opening.
All images courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
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