Consolidation of Charging Networks Will Accelerate EV Adoption

By · July 24, 2012

One of the keys to driving the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) is the deployment of a robust public charging infrastructure that gives drivers the confidence that a recharge is only a few minutes away. In the United States, the rollout of charging stations is progressing, but currently the market is too fragmented in charging equipment manufacturers and networks to satisfy most EV owners. (Pike Research detailed many of the business challenges around EV charging business models in its 2011 report, Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment, and we are currently working on an update to that report.)

Consumers want to be able to plug in at any station, charge their car and pay with the simplicity of filling up with gas. Today, there are more than two dozen companies in the U.S. providing charging stations or operating charging networks, and for PEV drivers, this can require signing up for multiple payment accounts and learning the subtle differences in how the equipment operates. For these reasons, the news that two of the largest EV charging services companies could be merging should be considered a welcome event.

Publicly traded CarCharging Group, based in Miami, said it will acquire 350Green, a privately-held Los Angeles-based rival. Both companies have had considerable success in growing their networks during the past year, and the combined entity should provide a more consistent experience for consumers as well as consolidating resources to compete in an industry that is quickly evolving.

As Pike Research predicted last year, EV charging services companies such as these two have been winning many of the contracts to install stations. For example, CarCharging won a deal with Ace Parking Management, while 350Green has installed hundreds of charging stations in Pennsylvania, California, Indiana, and has a large project in Chicago.

Neither CarCharging nor 350Green manufactures equipment, unlike competitors such as Ecotality and Coulomb Technologies that make the stations and operate the networks. The charging equipment hardware business is very competitive and has experienced falling margins due to the numerous competitors and slower than expected sales of PEVs.

EV charging networks will probably follow the same path as the mobile phone industry, which saw extensive consolidation during the past decade. Similarly, you’ll see multiple hardware vendors’ products offered by a service provider, but payment systems and network management will consolidate. GE recently announced a deal that will enable drivers to use PayPal to pay at its charging stations.

Which companies will be the EV charging services equivalent of Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile remains to be seen. EV charging services are challenged by the lack of PEVs on the roads today to create a revenue stream, as well as the uncertainty surrounding how much consumers will pay for public charging, and what types of plans (subscription fees versus pay-per-use) will be of most interest to consumers. CarCharging Group has seen its stock price collapse from a high of $70 in 2010 to its current price of $1.30. 350Green is also being scrutinized for the slowness of the Chicago rollout, according to the website The Expired Meter.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.