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25 October 2019

Ford’s EV charging pass follows connectivity in VaaS evolution

Ahead of the reveal of its ‘Mustang-inspired’ SUV, Ford has confirmed that it will be providing new customers with access to the FordPass Charging Network, as a means to assuage range anxiety. Of course, Ford isn’t actually building this network, rather brokering access across multiple providers, but it shows that the automakers are making another step towards providing vehicles-aaS (VaaS).

Cellular connectivity to provide in-car media streaming and a WiFi hotspot was the other major recent step towards VaaS bundling, and the flirtations between the automakers and the insurance industry will eventually culminate in a full-blown romance – where driving data enables ‘real-time insurance,’ which is one of the first steps towards fully-fledged ride-sharing and on-demand vehicle access.

At that point, the concept of private individual ownership of a vehicle might start taking a pummeling. Newer generations of consumers are becoming more comfortable with the XaaS model, and Riot has explored the concept in the past. Instead of simply selling the car, the automakers want to retain control of that customer, selling them routine maintenance, media consumption, and bundling insurance and local taxes into a single monthly price.

Volvo has been most forward-thinking in this regard, and now effectively lets customers subscribe to its vehicular offerings – allowing them to trade between models frequently through the year, with the number of trades tied to the cost of the package. Here, Volvo retains ownership of the vehicles too, which can be used in secondary markets, once they no longer match the premium feel that the VaaS package entails.

The other big trend that automakers are exploring is more in the mobility side of things, creating fleets of vehicles to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft. Investments and some acquisitions have taken place, but there has yet to be a major incursion into the market by an automaker. Despite Tesla’s talk of being able to make your shiny new EV available to on-demand customers, we think that that particular idea only lasts as long as it takes for your car to come back with food or human secretions left in it.

Of course, as the market moves towards higher penetration rates of EVs, the automakers then have to solve the problem of how the shorter ranges and the necessary charging cycles are factored into the fleet mobility problem, and access to charging infrastructure is a prerequisite first step.

Ford seems to be taking a sensible approach here, by avoiding the burden of having to build out a national network of EV chargers itself, and instead partnering with other providers to create the offering. Tesla took the hard road, building out its Supercharger network in order to persuade early adopters of the EV concept that they would be able to manage long trips.

One of Ford’s biggest allies in the new project is Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen that was created as part of the fallout from Dieselgate – the global scandal in which VW and other automakers were found to have been cheating at the emissions tests imposed by national regulators. There’s a nice dash of irony here that VW’s punishment is to play a part in bringing about the death of the internal combustion engine.

Ford and VW have worked together in the past, with Ford committing to using VW’s Modular Electric Drive Matrix (MEB), as well as VW taking a stake in Argo AI – the self-driving software startup that Ford invested $1bn into back in 2017.  “While Ford and Volkswagen remain independent and fiercely competitive in the marketplace, teaming up and working with Argo AI on this important technology allows us to deliver unmatched capability, scale and geographic reach,” said Ford CEO Jim Hackett, back in July.

The figure that Ford is throwing around in the new announcement is 12,000 chargers. In performance terms, Ford says that a 150 KW fast charger (DC charger) should add 47 miles of range in 10 minutes, and provide an 80% battery charge in 45 minutes. Charging equipment provider Greenlots is involved, and Ford says it will add more chargers to the FordPass network.

The FordPass smartphone app will act as the payment mechanism, but a touchscreen in the EVs is also apparently going to work. A feature will be included in the vehicle’s IVI software that will plan the best route based on charging availability – taking any thought out of the process of planning a long trip.

Now, Ford is going to have to broker a number of deals with the charging station providers. The pitch with FordPass is that you will only have to pay for the electricity you use, but won’t have to pay the membership fees that are usually part of a such deals. This should mean that Ford owners would be able to rock up to a plethora of charging station networks, and simply plug in.

These membership fees might be quite short-lived. They seem anathema to the conventional understanding of refueling. Ford removing some of the friction from the process is of value to its customers, but that actual barrier is one that probably shouldn’t exist in the first place. There might be some mileage in a membership scheme for gas stations, but it would be unconventional and not easily ported to mass-market EV adoption.

And added wrinkle is that these charging stations might soon become the only way to quickly recharge a vehicle. Based on what Ford has said about its upcoming EV, with its 300-mile range, the AC-current chargers included with the car for use at home are only going to add around 23-miles for each hour they are plugged into the wall. That’s the figure for a 240V power supply, and if you only have a 120V supply, the charging rate is apparently only 3 miles for each hour.

At these rates, you would have to charge for just over 13 hours at 240V to fill the battery, and a mindboggling 100 hours on the slowest connection. Of course, Ford has the Connected Charger Station, which it is partnering with Amazon to push to the market – aiming to add these units to homes that buy the new EV. These at—home chargers will apparently add 32 miles of range per hour they’re plugged in for.

This is why the new DC chargers are so important. Ford’s claimed ability to charge 80% of the battery within 45 minutes is an order of magnitude better than the AC-based alternative. Notably, Electrify America has yet to complete its own network of chargers, and selected installer Greenlots has a big task ahead to meet the deadlines. By December 2021, the target is 800 stations and 3,500 individual chargers. You will spot that this is just a fraction of the 12,000 that Ford is trying to entice prospective buyers with.

“We are excited to be working with Electrify America given its powerful public charging network and impressive plans for expansion. As part of our $11.5 billion investment in global electric vehicles, we are always working to differentiate our offerings for customers and look forward to providing owners with a premium charging experience and convenient access to Electrify America’s comprehensive network,” said Matt Stover, Ford’s Director of EV Services.