Much like the cell-phone network industry in the mid-1990s, the electric-car charging industry is on a fast pace of network expansions and mergers.
EV charging companies are on the verge of rapid global growth as utility companies and large multinational corporations put up big money, according to a report from Navigant Research Blog.
For investors, timing is everything: just a few years ago, the electric-car charging network segment was still viewed as regional, with larger, more established companies like Siemens and Schneider Electric mostly staying in the background.
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Charging networks face challenges: building a customer base, continuously expanding, and holding onto brand recognition, the report said.
However, in just the past two months, French energy-giant ENGIE and Daimler have announced acquisitions and investments, respectively.
ENGIE has acquired EV-Box, a market leader from the Netherlands, along with its energy-solution expertise to expand further into the North American market.
EVgo electric-car fast-charging stations installed by Dec 2015 (light blue) and Jan 2017 (dark blue)
Daimler recently led an $82 million investment in ChargePoint that will go towards expanding its operations in Europe. The German luxury maker, which plans to launch 10 electric cars by 2025, joins existing investor BMW.
Business models are still evolving, with the mix of revenue sources in some debate: what will electric-car drivers pay for fast charging? How much will site operators be willing to spend to offer charging to potential customers?
Those questions and the costs of building a network led electric utility NRG to spin out its EVgo charging network to private investors last year, to refocus on its core businesses.
READ THIS: Daimler invests in ChargePoint to grow electric-car charging in Europe, joins BMW
There's also a big dog whose looming presence is likely distorting other companies' plans in the U.S.
With its “Electrify America” campaign, VW Group of America has agreed to spend $2 billion over 10 years on zero-emissions infrastructure. This came as part of the settlement of its diesel-emission cheating scandal.
Before that settlement was reached, automakers supported electric-car charging companies and equipment, to address vocal customer concerns over range anxiety.
BMW and Nissan electric car fast-charging station
BMW, Nissan, and Volkswagen have also found that programs offering limited free or discounted charging are good marketing for their electric vehicles.
However, not all companies are willing to fund charging infrastructure. GM said more than a year ago that it would not fund any DC fast-charging infrastructure despite this year's rollout of its Chevrolet Bolt EV, with an EPA-rated 238-mile range.
While battery technology is continually improving—to be more capable, more durable, and less expensive—the report suggests that the instability of the car-charging market globally will continue until it becomes not only more established, but also less reliant on subsidies.
— Matt Pilgrim