Ford plans nation’s largest EV charging network

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ford Motor Co. has reached deals to open up the largest network of electric vehicle chargers in the United States, the automaker announced yesterday, in a bid to smooth access to charging before its new lineup of all-electric cars hits the market next year.

The company isn’t building new chargers itself. Instead, Ford unveiled plans to co-opt the existing network of Royal Dutch Shell PLC subsidiary Greenlots, which provides the software for multiple companies that install physical charging station equipment.

Ford customers will be able to charge up at over 12,000 locations — nearly three times the number accessible to Tesla owners — thanks to a new service known as FordPass, the company said.

FordPass will also let its drivers find and plug into fast chargers developed by Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG that aims to have 800 locations installed or in development by 2021.

Ford is planning to bring out its first all-electric models in 2020, including an SUV intended to resemble a Mustang. Electrify America’s fast chargers should be capable of giving that new SUV about 47 miles’ worth of charge in 10 minutes, according to Ford.

A third subset of the plan will loop in Amazon.com Inc. to help customers install plugs at home, Ford announced.

Creating the new network is Ford’s answer to a vexing issue for electric vehicle drivers. Whereas gas car drivers can fuel up at any station, charging up an EV tends to involve registering as a member of a specific provider.

Citing that as a barrier to EV adoption, policymakers in several states have sought to require public-facing chargers to accept credit cards. Charging companies have opposed the requirement as a burden for an industry with already slim profit margins.

Ford’s new service effectively braids together existing memberships into one giant plan and enrolls customers for two years starting from when they buy their car.

Eventually, the company may open up network membership to other drivers, said Emma Bergg, a spokesperson for Ford.

Max Baumhefner, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, welcomed the announcement in an emailed statement. “Good for Ford for helping its customers navigate a confusing mess of charging networks,” he said.

But he noted that regulators in California had recently enacted the credit card requirement for public chargers, calling it “a simpler solution” than Ford’s plan.

Customers “shouldn’t have to rely on individual automakers negotiating deals so people can pay for charging without the hassle of signing up for multiple proprietary networks,” wrote Baumhefner.

Rival carmakers are trying to provide similar assurances to buyers of their EVs. Last spring, General Motors Co. created a jointly owned company with construction giant Bechtel Corp. that will build chargers for its vehicles. And Tesla Inc. has spent years building a proprietary network of over 4,800 chargers, according to Department of Energy data.

Nick Nigro, the founder of EV data firm Atlas Public Policy, said in an email to E&E News that Ford’s announcement was “another sign that automakers are putting careful thought” into their EV offerings.

“Take a lesson from Tesla, installing fast charging infrastructure boosts sales and addresses a big concern drivers have about going electric,” he wrote.