Why now is the time for a Mercedes-Benz charging network • TechCrunch
When your Rolex needs repair, you’ll probably take the time to take it to a specialist service center. Likewise, you are not going to entrust the repair of the crimson soles of your Louboutins to the local shoe shiner. So why should you be forced to use any plebeian charging network for your premium EV?
Mercedes-Benz hopes its affluent clientele will want to give its luxury electric vehicles the same kind of premium treatment. At CES 2023 in Las Vegas last week, Mercedes announced the creation of a bespoke charging network for its growing range of electric vehicles – all-electric offerings that will make up the company’s entire portfolio by 2030. .
The initial $1 billion investment, shared with Mn8 Energy, will create more than 400 charging sites across North America, with 2,000 sites eventually offering 10,000 chargers in total.
For context, that’s a quarter of the size of Tesla’s current Supercharger network, a charging offering that took a decade to build.
TechCrunch spoke to Magnus Östberg, Chief Software Officer, and Markus Schäfer, Chief Technology Officer, for more details on why Mercedes is getting into EV charging and how it will execute on its plan.
Schäfer said the final cost to build the network would be “a few billion dollars” depending on the scope of the initial investment (“you can do the math,” he said).
“We think it’s absolutely worth it,” he said in an interview at CES 2023. “If you’re an electric vehicle driver, you know what kind of experience you have, especially during holidays and trips with an electric vehicle.And it’s not like Mercedes.
Although the initial investment is high, Schäfer said it’s just another big expense the company is willing to make to own the EV space.
“We’re talking tens of billions of dollars to transform the business,” he said. “It wasn’t our first priority to take care of the raw material supply chain or the cell manufacturing, or the load in the first place.”
But those are things Mercedes had to do, partnering with Rock Tech Lithium and others for raw material sourcing, and pledging to build eight battery manufacturing plants around the world.
Mercedes is now turning to a charging network because no one else has created a network they are happy with.
“We really thought that other entities would take care [of it] and you know, the energy companies that run gas stations today would take care [of it] . This does not happen. That didn’t happen,” Schäfer lamented.
Of course, investing the billions in capital needed to build an electric vehicle charging network is only one part – albeit an important one – in bringing such an ambitious project to fruition. The location of these chargers and how they are maintained are the other critical components of the electric vehicle charging network.
Chief Software Officer Östberg and CTO Schäfer said dealers will have a say here, but customer density and usage patterns will be the most important factors in choosing locations.
“We know their travel preferences,” Schäfer said, “and that’s exactly the basis for selecting the perfect site.”
Reading between the lines, that means it won’t be a network designed to fill the gaps in existing charging networks. Rather, it will be a higher-end choice offered in densely populated areas, places surely already well served by Electrify America, Tesla’s Supercharger network and others.
Östberg said each location will be selected to create a “luxury Mercedes experience”, ensuring none are set up in a “scary location”.
Proximity to good food will be a priority, while each location will have plenty of light and surveillance systems. Mercedes said it will invest to ensure each location is up to snuff, buying or leasing land as needed.
Chargers will be high-speed, 350kW to start but scalable even beyond that, and Mercedes-Benz is taking steps to ensure uptime, the bane of many electric car journeys.
ChargePoint will provide the physical chargers and the back-end to monitor them. Schäfer said Mercedes and partner Mn8 will ensure spare parts are readily available nearby, along with technicians on call to install them, but it will be up to ChargePoint to keep the software side operational. This is cause for concern. When chargers fail, software is usually the culprit. A 2022 survey of 657 Bay Area chargers found that 22.7% were non-functional due to various system failures, such as unresponsive touch screens. Only 0.9% of chargers had an obvious hardware defect, such as a broken connector.
The final aspect of luxury here will be availability. While these chargers will be open to use by any electric vehicle, Mercedes-Benz owners will have the added privilege of a charger reservation system. Today’s MBUX navigation already suggests charging stops along the way and preconditions the battery as it approaches. When selecting a Mercedes-owned Charger, the car will take the extra step of keeping a spot for them.
“If you’re in a traffic jam and, you know, you can’t arrive until this time, the system will know you’re arriving later and it will update your reservation,” Schäfer said. This, of course, will only happen if you’re using the built-in Mercedes navigation experience, not Apple or Google Maps. “The idea is also the key to keeping them in our ecosystem,” Schäfer said.
The billion dollars initially spent to launch this network will only be the start of the investment, but Schäfer is adamant that it will eventually be a profitable business: “It has to be a stand-alone business. Absolutely.”
Schäfer said the business will eventually be profitable and cites Ionity as an example of what can go well.
“The valuation of this network has increased so much,” he said. “So it was a great investment… We think we can do the same here.”
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