Mercedes-Benz, MN8, and ChargePoint are joining forces to install 400 fast electric vehicle charging hubs across the US in a major bid to boost EV sales and improve the nation’s struggling EV charging infrastructure. The project will cost approximately €1 billion ($1 billion), which will be split 50-50 between Mercedes and MN8.
Starting this year, the companies will begin the work to construct hundreds of new hubs, which will include more than 2,500 DC fast charging plugs. MN8 Energy, an offshoot of Goldman Sachs Asset Management focused on solar power and energy storage, will help finance the project using ChargePoint’s EV charging hardware and software, the companies said.
“This is for us a strategic decision to really put our money where our mouth is,” Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Källenius said in a briefing with reporters earlier, “and back up the direction that we’re already taking over the last few years, pivoting towards electric and putting the company in a position by the end of this decade to be able to serve markets with an all-electric lineup.”
Mercedes has said it expects to transition to EV-only sales “where market conditions allow” by the end of the decade. Several automakers have made similar claims, though charging infrastructure, production capacity, and higher-than-average EV prices remain significant challenges.
The Mercedes-ChargePoint EV charging hubs will be located in “key cities and urban population centers, along major highway corridors and close to convenient retail and service destinations,” the companies say. Mercedes dealerships, luxury malls, and other retail locations frequented by Mercedes owners are likely locations as well, the company’s executives said.
“It will be a safe location,” Mercedes chief technology officer Markus Schäfer said. “It will be not in the backyard somewhere of some shopping center next to a dumpster.”
The charging hubs will be open to all EVs, not just Mercedes owners, but people who own an EQS and other Mercedes EVs will have the option to reserve certain stations. “We want to have a seamless, premium process here,” Schäfer said. “So reservation is a feature that we’re offering to Mercedes customers.”
Mercedes has a prior arrangement with ChargePoint for an “industry-leading” EV charging solution called Mercedes me Charge, which permits access to ChargePoint’s chargers without multiple charging network accounts, subscriptions, or charging cards. The automaker also has a deal with Volkswagen’s Electrify America in which Mercedes EV owners get access to two years of complimentary charging.
There are approximately 41,000 public charging stations in the United States, with more than 100,000 outlets. Of course, public chargers are only half of the equation. Most EV owners do their charging overnight while parked in their driveway at home. But if EVs are to become a more attractive option to car buyers, charging stations are going to need to become more pervasive and reliable, like gas stations.
So far, they’re failing to live up to their promise. Broken chargers, janky software, and busted screens are common complaints from EV owners. The Biden administration is pouring billions of dollars into a nationwide expansion effort, but there are lingering questions about whether EV charging companies are fully invested in the necessary maintenance and upkeep.
Källenius cited the use of the Plug-and-Charge protocol, in which an EV charger automatically identifies the EV when it’s plugged in and initiates charging and billing without any additional steps, as a way toward improving the customer experience.
Mercedes-Benz is the latest automaker to put its own money into charging station installation. Sales of the German automaker’s EQ brand of electric vehicles are ticking up in the US, so it makes sense that the company will want to be seen as involved in charging infrastructure improvements.
Until recently, the only automaker to pour millions of dollars into EV charging infrastructure was Tesla. But in recent years, the auto industry has come to terms with the necessity of spending money on EV charging in order to drive EV sales and help recoup the enormous costs of their development.
Aside from Tesla, VW is arguably the most invested through its subsidiary, Electrify America. GM is working with EVgo on the installation of 3,250 chargers, which the automaker has said will be completed by the end of 2025. Ford is requiring its dealers to install chargers and is also helping its commercial fleet customers with installations. And Volvo is also working with ChargePoint to build out a network of chargers in Starbucks parking lots across five states.