A couple weeks ago, Chargepoint became the first publicly traded EV charging network company, after merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). On March 1st, the CEO of Chargepoint, Pasquale Romano, virtually rung the opening bell for the New York Stock Exchange. The new company was listed that day as CHPT.
“ChargePoint continues to pioneer the category, becoming the first publicly traded electric vehicle charging company operating across continents,” said Romano. “ChargePoint’s public company debut reinforces the durability of this industry, supported by increasingly progressive climate policy, market preference for clean mobility and more new vehicle introductions than ever before. With our business model tested over more than a decade and approximately $480 million in net proceeds raised from this transaction, I’m confident that ChargePoint is well positioned for continued growth in North America and Europe as the shift to electrified mobility takes hold globally.”
While it has merged with the Switchback Energy Acquisition Corporation, the company will still continue to be led by the same company officers as before. The SPAC’s investors seem to be confident in the company, its method of doing things, and its future growth.
How Chargepoint Fits Into The EV Charging Scene
The EV charging scene is still in its infancy, and things are rapidly evolving.
While Tesla handles both vehicles and chargers, the rest of the automotive industry seems to be working more on the traditional model. In the past, automakers made cars, and oil companies sold refined gasoline to stations that fueled the vehicles.
Tesla had a number of good reasons to jumpstart charging infrastructure, the biggest of which was the EV charging Catch-22. People didn’t want to buy cars without good charging infrastructure, and companies didn’t want to build charging stations because almost nobody had EVs to use at the stations. Someone had to break the cycle and get things rolling, and that’s exactly what Tesla did.
There are some signs that manufacturers are getting into chargers, but they’re not going to try to run their own network the way Tesla did. For example, GM has partnered with EVgo to add locations to its network. Nissan tried to use dealers to build a charging network, but that didn’t work as well as it hoped (mostly because dealers dropped the ball). For that reason, EV charging companies are going to be an important part of the future of EVs.
Not all independent charging companies are the same, though. Different companies are taking different approaches to the challenge of building, operating, and maintaining charging infrastructure.
Electrify America is owned by Volkswagen, and VW built the charging network because it got caught cheating on emissions tests for its “clean diesels.” While the company could have put the bare minimum in, it actually did set up a good charging company that serves EV drivers well. This is good for Volkswagen because it can build EVs that get a decent charging network like Tesla did. So, in many ways Electrify America is more like Tesla than the others.
EVgo is different. It isn’t owned by an automaker, but does partner with them some to give drivers free charging. For example, Nissan has the No Charge to Charge program, and GM is working with it to put in more stations. That’s kind of like when a dealer gives you a free tank of gas with a new vehicle. The company still owns its own stations, but it leases spots to install them at public places. EVgo remains responsible for powering, maintaining, and expanding the network. EVgo is more like a gas station company than the other networks.
Chargepoint is more of a middleman than the others, and is pretty similar to the Blink network. Instead of owning the stations, it sells stations to private property owners and then brings customers to the stations. Payments (if any, because many stations are free) are handled by Chargepoint and the owner gets their cut. If something goes wrong with the station, it’s entirely up to the station’s owner to fix it up. In many cases, the owner of the station doesn’t have the funds or doesn’t want to spend money fixing the station. This creates some reliability problems with its network compared to the others.
I don’t want to bash the company, because Chargepoint corporate is pretty decent, but the lack of commitment on the part of property owners is a problem I’ve faced personally. I once lived at some apartments that had two Chargepoint stations. One day, the station went out, and wasn’t working for over a month. When a repair guy finally came out, he said that the apartments were dragging their feet, and they were upset that they’d have to pay maintenance for the station on top of the electric bill. The apartments provided free charging, so they were eating it all.
I’ve seen broken stations at a gas station in Flagstaff, and one station at the Petrified Forest National Park has been broken for several years, while the other is flaky. On that particular trip, dealing with Chargepoint’s network was a real pain.
Evolution Can Be Unpleasant
While it’s sometimes fun to think about the amazing things that happened with evolution in the past, it’s less fun to think about the individual animals that didn’t make it. Good mutations made for creatures that survived and thrived, passing their genes on to more offspring. Those who don’t win the evolutionary game die young, and don’t pass on their genes. In many ways, that’s what’s happening to the charging company market right now.
Some companies are going to provide an excellent level of customer service, but won’t make enough money to make a profit. While customers will love those companies, they will be selected by the market for extinction.
Other companies will make money, but won’t provide good customer service. When that happens, the company will slowly die as competitors move in to serve the customers who were let down by the faulty stations. This could happen to Chargepoint if it doesn’t start requiring its site hosts to get on the ball and fix things.
Ultimately, it will be the companies that provide reasonably good service (and that means reliable stations) and turn a profit who will succeed in the end.
I’m not saying Chargepoint will be one of the companies that the market will select for extinction, as it is doing better than Blink is. Investors should probably just keep an eye on Chargepoint using the Plugshare app. If its stations start going down almost everywhere the way Blink’s did, I wouldn’t want to risk my money on it. If its stations get better, it might be a safer bet.
But, seriously though, don’t take any investment advice from me. I know a lot more about EV technology than I know about “stonks.” Definitely do your own homework!
Featured image: A Photoshopped image showing a Chargepoint banner on the NY Stock Exchange. Image provided by Chargepoint.