IONITY one year on: How carmakers are delivering on Europe’s ‘super’ EV charging network

EXCLUSIVE: Just over a year ago, a group of the world's largest carmakers launched IONITY - a joint venture with the single aim of creating a pan-European "super" network of rapid electric vehicle (EV) chargers. But with its 2020 deadlines now looming, edie explores how the firms are progressing towards this aim.

IONITY one year on: How carmakers are delivering on Europe’s ‘super’ EV charging network

IONITY's first UK chargers are currently being installeed in Gretna Green

IONITY made headlines across Europe when it was co-founded by BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford and Porsche’s parent company Volkswagen (VW) in November 2017, with a core ambition of installing 400 High-Power Charging (HPC) stations for EVs across Europe by 2020. Each station has a maximum capacity of 350kW and is capable of charging six vehicles simultaneously.

At the time of IONITY’s launch, just 100,000 publicly available EV charging points had been installed throughout the continent, with investment bank Morgan Stanley’s analyst arm having predicted that a further one – three million would be needed in Western Europe alone by 2030.

Beginning with just 20 chargers across Norway, Austria and Germany in 2017, IONITY therefore initially pledged to deliver 100 HPC stations by the end of 2018. But amid a turbulent political and economic landscape – and faced with the challenge of meeting different national standards and infrastructure challenges – 61 HPC units are now live with a further 54 under construction (at the time of publication).  

However, the venture is still on track to meet its 2020 ambition and has reshaped its plans to account for the “more rapid expansion” needed to deliver this vision, according to IONITY’s chief executive Michael Hajesch.

“Supporting infrastructure and EVs will always be a ‘chicken and egg’ problem, with different organisations having different views on which should come first,” Hajesch told edie.

“One of the most important parts of the set up was being able to acquire the rights to launch across different regions, with the support of stakeholders across the continent. Now that this has happened, the mission will happen now very quickly – more than it has so far.”

Indeed, as IONITY’s founding carmakers all move to electrify their own portfolios and develop other low-carbon mobility solutions, the venture has garnered external support from dozens of organisations, including local authorities, national governments, oil and gas majors Royal Dutch Shell and Eni and fuel station and convenience store operators such as Euro Garages Group and Circle K.

Each of these organisations will either host HPC points at their stores or on their estates, provide sponsorship for the infrastructure improvements needed to support them or include them on their digital maps and in their communications in a bid to boost levels of uptake.

For Hajesch, it is this level of collaboration – compounded by IONITY’s commitment to ensure that all HPCs are “brand agnostic” and – which has kept it “on very good track” to meet its 2020 target in the face of delays.

“If you’re trying to support electrification, it doesn’t really make sense to have 20 or 40 different networks for different brands of vehicles across Europe,” he added.

“A really important factor in making sure EVs are accepted across Europe’s broad customer base is making sure that people feel they can rely on a common standard of infrastructure for support.”

Charging challenges

Hajesch’s sentiments echo the conclusions of a recent research paper by the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which warned that the current range of apps, radio-frequency identification (RFID) cards and membership accounts required to access the fragmented charging infrastructure in the UK and beyond is discouraging motorists and businesses from switching to EVs.

But the former BMW petrol series developer was also keen to highlight the fact that different charging situations – ranging from personal cars in urban areas, to logistics fleets in more rural locations – are likely to benefit from specific business models. This means that organisations striving to “bridge the gap” between EV uptake and infrastructure provisions should be mindful of the wider social, economic and geographical context of their markets, to ensure they are driving meaningful change.

“A lack of infrastructure is a global, national, local and individual challenge,” Hajesch explained.

“IONITY is focusing on one specific use case, which is long-distance journeys, so other charging contexts such as home, workplace and urban mobility will still require work outside of our remit. The good news is that we are not alone and since we were founded, there have been a lot of other companies ramping up their infrastructure.”

Such companies include the likes of big-name retailers, hospitality and leisure firms and estate managers, as well as rival carmakers such as Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). Key players in the oil and gas industry are also beginning to foray into the field of low-carbon mobility services, with Shell and BP having already moved to offer rapid EV charging at their forecourts.

And outside of the private sector, UK local authorities are increasingly overcoming funding challenges to emerge as leaders in the EV infrastructure space, with large-scale EV charging projects having recently been confirmed or scaled up by the likes of Oxford City Council, Suffolk County Council and the City of London Authority.

According to Hajesch, this cross-sector and cross-country traction, compounded by the launch of similar EV charging projects by other private firms such as NewMotion and ChargeMaster, has paved the way for “exponential growth” of the e-mobility sector as a whole. Crucially, he is pleased that low-carbon mobility is beginning to become an issue which is both competitive and pre-competitive for privately owned firms, with corporates striving to launch the best services but collaborating to foster the wider EV revolution.

“EV uptake is still at a low level globally, but if you look at what’s happened over the last five or six years, infrastructure and EV stocks are growing rapidly, and we will see this accelerating even more in the future,” he concluded.

“As time goes on, I am pretty this collaborative action will create a zone in which people are more confident and comfortable to go for the low-carbon alternative when it comes to mobility.”

Sarah George

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