Discussions in Mobility: Meeting consumer demand with EV charging infrastructure | So Good News
Charging infrastructure in the US they need to expand rapidly to drive more consumers of electric vehicles (EVs), according to Cathy Zoi, CEO of EV charging company EVgo. “Without infrastructure anywhere, we won’t have drivers willing to buy EVs,” says Zoi. “For the US to really buy into the EV transition, there needs to be easy ordering in the middle.”
In line with the geographical spread, EVgo’s goal is to create a better shopping experience. Zoi thinks laundromats should be easy to find and should include more customer-friendly offerings, including having their own brand name. “When you recognize a charger with a long string of numbers, it’s easy to make a mistake. So we decided to name our chargers,” he said.
To learn more about how the supply chain is changing, McKinsey’s Allie Medack sat down with Zoi at the recent M30 conference. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.
Allie Medack: You are speeding up the installation of electricity. What is EVgo’s role in the future of mobility?
Cathy Zoe: We are the largest fast laundromat network in the United States at this time.
Allie Medack: Can you tell us a little bit about this jump from, I think, 100,000 chargers to 2 million, and what do you think about this big change?
Cathy Zoe: Sure. Currently, EVgo has 1,800 car wash locations across the United States. And we are in over 60 markets and 30 plus countries. But by 2030, you will be able to pay for 15 minutes wherever you want. We are part of that rapid growth. EVs originated in California, which is home to about 60 to 70 percent of EVs in the country. But that is changing. We’re seeing a lot of action in Florida, Colorado, and Texas — places you’d never think had adopted eco-friendly cars. But everything is happening.
We’re working with General Motors right now, for example, and they want to sell EVs across America. So we are building chargers where they want to sell cars. This means Indiana, Arkansas, and Michigan. As I say, they will be everywhere.
Allie Medack: What does it take to do this? What kind of environment do you want?
Cathy Zoe: The bottom line is that our revenue needs the same amount of money, so we need enough EVs on the road to power our infrastructure. Where there are not enough EVs, we partner with car companies such as Toyota, Nissan, and General Motors, and they help us build the infrastructure before selling the cars. We also partner with governments. There are state and local government programs that, again, help fund the construction of this important infrastructure. And we agree with the requirements. Electric utilities are happy to put electricity on the roads. I know one former corporate executive who said, “Hey, EVs are the most exciting thing that’s happened to the electric industry since the invention of the air conditioner.” So we’re partnering with them to make sure that the electric glass where we’re building our fast charging station can handle the load that EVs will put on the local system.
It really does take a village to build a fast track. The construction process is straightforward, but the rest of the contract means that the four to eight stores could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.
Allie Medack: Another big part of this is consumers. What does consumer education look like?
Cathy Zoe: We like to build in big cities where there are people. And what we’re finding is that people with EVs who live at home need to use fast charging, and they like to pay fast when they’re grocery shopping. But we’re also seeing that even people who have charging at home, if there’s a fast charging station near their favorite grocery store or nail salon, they plug in and top up like most of us do with our cell phones.
So having fast chargers readily available is a good thing. Another thing that EVgo does is that we add special features to the charging process. So, for example, we created this great app that offers store coupons. We have a partnership with a grocery store in Northern California. You get a coupon—$10 off your grocery cart.
Allie Medack: It’s amazing.
Cathy Zoe: And we get 40 percent cut-through prices. People love it. We also have a reservation service, so if you want to go grocery shopping at 10 o’clock on a Saturday, and you want to be sure there is a store, you can make a reservation at the EVgo machine.
Allie Medack: There are many aspects to this business. What do you think about the user experience, the customer experience at checkout?
Cathy Zoe: Customer experience is very important. For a long time, EVgo is committed to paying for all EVs. Whether you have a Nissan or a Chevy Bolt or a Tesla, you can come to an EVgo station and charge it up. We developed software so that if the toll booth is inside a parking garage, you can enter the parking garage without paying. It doesn’t have to be a gas station.
Allie Medack: What are you excited about right now?
Cathy Zoe: I am passionate about making the customer experience seamless. And we’re friendly: we even name all our chargers. For example, in Washington Union Station, the car is called the “First Dog” of the president. Instead of using numbers, we thought it would be easier for customers if we had unique names across the country. Then we started naming them after local heroes. So, in Long Beach, we have Billie Jean for Billie Jean King, Snoop for Snoop Dogg, and Nicolas for Nicolas Cage.
Allie Medack: Very nice. And what are the biggest hurdles you’re currently overcoming in terms of scaling?
Cathy Zoe: Sometimes the process is long, with legal procedures and things like support power, so it’s difficult. My biggest concern is that the OEMs don’t get the chargers they need to make the cars.
Allie Medack: What can you do as an EV-charging supporter?
Cathy Zoe: We have plans to have 10,000 EVgo fast chargers by 2025, but if the market slows, we will limit our deployment. I don’t want to do that because I believe we have to deal with climate change, and we have to go outside and get the electricity going. And the survey shows that as an EV buyer, you feel better when you see charging equipment.
I believe we have to deal with climate change, and we have to go outside and get the electricity going.
Allie Medack: What do you think about the proof points, the events that you are happy to achieve to show the market that EVgo is a leader in the space and will continue to be a leader?
Cathy Zoe: The part I’m doubly excited about is the fleets. They are several years behind the market in electronics. EVgo is working with a number of fleet providers to build warehouses and allow these fleets to access our network. For example, we work with Uber and Lyft as they expand their driving capabilities. We work with fast growing independent companies.
Allie Medack: So if you’re renting an electric car, how do you find out if it’s paying for itself?
Cathy Zoe: That’s where relationships come in. We have partnerships with Uber and Lyft drivers. If you’re driving your own car on Uber, or if you’re renting a car from one of Uber’s partners, you get a special price on EVgo. He is a heavy user, so he gets a big discount.
Allie Medack: What do you say to someone who asks why they should get an electric car when they can only use fossil fuels to generate electricity to run the car?
Cathy Zoe: Well, if you pay for EVgo, it’s 100 percent renewable energy. We are the only fast paying company that is committed to this. When you arrive at an EVgo station, you know that every kilowatt hour you’re putting into your car is equivalent to buying an extra energy certificate. We are helping to create more demand, and demand for EVs.
Allie Medack: It is a big step and a big commitment.
Cathy Zoe: It took a commitment to stability. For someone who has spent as much time in the electronics sector as I have, there is no excuse not to get involved. [the renewable-energy-certificate market] and doing the right thing.
Allie Medack: Finally, what advice would you give for getting started in the space?
Cathy Zoe: I have spent a lot of time in small companies, as well as in large organizations. I think the most important thing is to manage your finances and keep an eye on your finances. This is more important than heavenly thoughts.
Allie Medack: Can you tell me a little about the EVgo upgrade journey?
Cathy Zoe: I joined at the end of 2017. We set up a financial plan where we only invest in the things we have listed. That was something new. We had about 50 people when I joined. Now we are close to 300. And in terms of talent, you have to make sure that there is the right one. We can influence because we have the right standards. It’s a mission goal. We are committed to sustainability. We try to live that life. And the biggest force that came out of COVID-19 was remote work. That works well for us, and we are committed to doing so. Alongside this, we are investing in transparency; for example, we have company-wide meetings every Monday where everyone calls.
Allie Medack: Any final thoughts on culture and how you build it?
Cathy Zoe: We have hired a lot of people. And every time a new hire comes in, I just say hello. I always ask why they chose EVgo, and 97 out of 100 times it’s because they love missions. So people are joining the companies they want to work for, in addition to earning a salary and having good benefits. We respect this, we nurture it, we reward it, and we talk about it and get ideas from all over the industry. Another thing we are doing is investing in our communities to ensure we are building stations in disadvantaged areas.
Allie Medack: It paves the way for the right thing, doesn’t it? Because those areas probably don’t have EVs today, I guess?
Cathy Zoe: There were claims that the EV industry was rich on its own, but we looked back and that was not true. The EPA has something called the EJ, the environmental justice index. We looked at where our equipment was and if we were better than the industry average. And we keep getting better.
Allie Medack: Thank you very much!