When your Rolex watch is about to be serviced, you will probably take the time to bring it to a specialist service center. Likewise, you’re not going to entrust the repair of the scarlet soles of your Louboutins to a corner shoe shiner. So why would you be forced to use a plebeian charging network for your premium EV?
Mercedes-Benz hopes its wealthy customers will want to give their luxury electric vehicles the same premium treatment. At CES 2023 in Las Vegas last week, Mercedes announced the creation of a tailor-made charging network for its growing line of electric vehicles – all-electric offerings that will make up the company’s entire portfolio by 2030.
The initial investment of $1 billion, shared with Mn8 Energy, will create an initial 400+ charging points in North America, with eventually 2,000 locations worldwide offering a total of 10,000 chargers.
In context, that’s a quarter of the size of Tesla’s current Supercharger network, a charging offering that took a decade to build.
TechCrunch spoke to Magnus Östberg, Chief Software Officer, and Markus Schäfer, Chief Technology Officer, for more details on why Mercedes is jumping into electric vehicle charging and how it will deliver on its plan.
Schäfer said the final cost of building the network would be “several billion dollars” based on the extent of the initial investment (“you can do the math,” he said).
“We think it’s worth it,” he said during an interview at CES 2023. “If you’re an EV driver, you know what experience you have, especially with EV vacations and traveling. And it’s not like a Mercedes.”
While the initial investment is high, Schäfer said this is just another big expense the company is willing to incur to own space for electric cars.
“We’re talking tens of billions of costs to transform the company,” he said. “Handling the raw material supply chain, cell manufacturing or charging was not our priority.”
But these are things Mercedes had to do, working with Rock Tech Lithium and other raw material suppliers, and committing to building eight battery manufacturing plants around the world.
Mercedes is now turning its attention to the charging network because no one else has created a network that they are happy with.
“We thought that really other entities would take care of it [of it] and you know, the energy companies running gas stations today would take care of that [of it]. It didn’t happen. That didn’t happen,” lamented Schäfer.
Of course, investing the billions of capital needed to build an electric vehicle charging network is only one element – albeit an important one – to the successful completion of such an ambitious project. The location of these chargers and how they are maintained are other critical components of an electric vehicle charging network.
Both Chief Software Officer Östberg and CTO Schäfer said dealers will have input here, but customer density and usage patterns will be the most important factors when choosing a location.
“We know their travel preferences,” said Schäfer, “and that will be the basis for choosing the perfect destination.”
Reading between the lines, this means it will not be a network designed to fill gaps in existing charging networks. Instead, it will be a premium choice offered in densely populated areas, places surely already well served by Electrify America, Tesla’s Supercharger network and others.
Östberg said each location would be chosen to create a “luxury Mercedes experience”, asserting none would be installed in a “creepy location”.
Proximity to good food will be a priority, and each location will have plenty of light and monitoring systems. Mercedes said it would invest to make each location snuff-ready, buying or leasing land as needed.
The chargers will be fast, with a starting power of 350 kW, but expandable even beyond that, and Mercedes-Benz is taking steps to ensure uptime, the bane of many electric car journeys.
ChargePoint will provide physical chargers and facilities to monitor them. Schäfer said Mercedes and partner Mn8 will ensure replacement parts are readily available nearby, with on-call technicians to install them, but ChargePoint will be responsible for keeping the software running. This is cause for concern. When chargers break, it’s usually the software that’s to blame. A 2022 study of 657 Bay Area chargers found that 22.7% of them were down due to various system failures, such as unresponsive touchscreens. Only 0.9% of chargers had an obvious hardware fault, such as a broken connector.
The last aspect of luxury here will be accessibility. While these chargers will be available for every electric vehicle, Mercedes-Benz owners will enjoy the added benefit of a charger reservation system. Today’s MBUX navigation already suggests charging stops along the way and prepares the battery before approaching it. By choosing a Mercedes-owned charger, the car will take an extra step to save them space.
“If you’re stuck in traffic and you know you can’t arrive at that time, the system will know you’re arriving later and update your booking,” Schäfer said. This will of course only happen if you use Mercedes integrated navigation, not Apple or Google Maps. “The idea is also key to keeping them in our ecosystem,” said Schäfer.
The $1 billion upfront to launch this network will be just the start of the investment, but Schäfer is adamant that it will ultimately be a profitable venture: “It has to be a self-sustaining business. Absolutely.”
Schäfer said the venture would eventually turn a profit and cites Ionity as an example of what can go well.
“The valuation of this network has gone up a lot,” he said. “So it’s been a great investment… We think we can do the same here.”