In Webinar, CarCharging Group Provides Few Answers to LEAF Owners’ Questions

By · November 06, 2013

Blink Public Charger

Blink public chargers are no longer owned by Ecotality. CarCharging Group will now need to address technical problems with existing charging stations.

The San Francisco BayLEAFs, a non-profit educational organization made up of local LEAF owners, hosted a webinar yesterday with executives from the CarCharging Group (CCG), the company that last month purchased the assets of Ecotality. As a result of the acquisition, CCG is the largest electric car charging group in the United States. The webinar, a positive sign that the company wants to open communications with EV drivers, was presumably held to answer key questions about the future of Ecotality’s Blink Network, now operated by CCG. Unfortunately, nearly every question was answered by executives with vague statements about commitment to customers—followed by, “We don’t have specifics at this time.”

The participating CarCharging Group representatives were Andy Kinard, the company’s president, and Jim Stanley, vice-president and general manager of Blink Network. Kinard said that CarCharging Group now operates charging stations in 35 states. He compared the company’s business model to the operation of vending machines, whereby CarCharging Group maintains ownership of the equipment and shares revenues with property owners.

“During Ecotality’s wind-down, there were many things that were simply challenging to to do,” said Stanley. “We are hard at work every single day to re-establish the health of the Blink network for the EV community.” He said that, as of last week, service technicians had returned to the field to address technical problems. Stanley minimized the extent of the technical problems, stating that they represented a “single-digit percentage” of the overall network.

The webinar was taxing for EV drivers trying to extract any concrete useful information buried in stilted responses about the company working hard, and wanting to provide the best level of service to owners and drivers. Nonetheless, from the 55-minute event, we can summarize the following substantive issues.

The Little We Know

  • The top two current priorities for CCG are to get problematic charging station units working, and to work towards the establishment of a single membership card to access all of the company’s public chargers. No timeline was provided.
  • In some cases, such as the Quick Charging station at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif.—the location of California’s first Quick Charger and not operational for the past several months—existing dysfunctional equipment will be removed and replaced with new hardware from a different manufacturer. The charging station at Stanford was originally installed by 350Green, another of CCG’s acquisitions.
  • CarCharging Group will remain agnostic about charging hardware, with a range of different manufacturers in use across its multiple networks.
  • Existing Blink membership cars will continue to work. Charging sessions will continue to be initiated by the cards and the Blink mobile app. Existing customer service operations, and call-in numbers, remain in place.
  • CCG remains committed to using a flat per-session fee as its pricing model. The company does not favor free charging, an approach taken by some Kohl stores and other retail locations.
  • The status of the U.S. Department of Energy’s EV Project, under which Ecotality received more than $100 million in federal support, is undetermined. Company officials are in communication with D.O.E. The status of ownership of private stations, provided to drivers as part of the EV Project, is also not clear.
  • Blink Network data sharing (via APIs), that enable use of data across multiple apps (including PlugShare) remain in place. The company expressed a commitment to work with third-party developer partners to further develop research-oriented applications via APIs.
  • There are no concrete plans for deployment of Quick Charge stations using SAE Combo Cords, a quick charging protocol intended for use in electric cars made by American and German automakers.
  • CarCharging Group communications with customers will expand in the coming weeks, including the use of an electronic newsletter to communicate “useful information.”

And what about problems with Blink equipment over-heating the charging connector of certain vehicles—such as the Honda Fit EV and Toyota RAV4 EV? “It’s getting a great deal of focus from our product engineers to better understand the root causes, and to work a remedy,” said Stanley. That response was punctuated by the same phrase used in nearly every other question. “That’s as specific as I can get.”

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