Published on March 15th, 2017 | by Zachary Shahan0
Energy Giant Engie Buys EV Charging Leader EV-Box (Exclusive Interview)
March 15th, 2017 by Zachary Shahan
As you probably read in recent weeks, I was one of the keynote speakers at EV-Box’s inaugural rEVolution summit, which took place yesterday in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I noticed ahead of time that the inspiring Engie exec Thierry Lepercq — Executive Vice President in charge of Research, Technology, and Innovation — was going to be one of the other speakers, but I did not anticipate the huge news that was to come. At the very end of the summit, EV-Box CEO Kristof Vereenooghe slow-walked us through the announcement, somewhat teasing the audience as he gradually unveiled that EV-Box had just become a part of Engie.
The story here is much bigger than it probably seems on the surface, and it’s something I plan to roll out in a series of articles in the coming weeks, months, and probably years. But below is a broad introduction.
— Monica Araya (@MonicaArayaTica) March 14, 2017
The first thing to note — since I know that even many EV leaders aren’t familiar with the name EV-Box — is that EV-Box is actually a global leader in the production of EV charging stations (EVSE). That said, I think it’s safe to acknowledge that there are no real global leaders in this space up till now. There are some corporate giants — Siemens, GE, Bosch — who have been offering products for a few years, but many markets are actually dominated by niche homegrown players who are specifically focused on selling EV charging stations in local or regional markets. Clipper Creek is an obvious example in the US — see this chart.
Aside from developing a good charging solution, one thing EV-Box has benefited from is a hot EV market around its home base — the Netherlands. This is one of the top EV markets in the world, which has surely helped EV-Box to scale up fairly quickly from its Dutch garage roots (e.g., Amsterdam’s superb on-street EV charging network uses EV-Box charging stations). But it seems as if the scaling EV-Box has done to date is nothing compared to what is around the corner.
First of all, Engie is certainly not acquiring the company with a small vision. Engie is a truly global energy company, with a presence in 70 countries. It is a legitimate energy giant. Engie seems to now have an obsessive focus on the endgame, in business unit after business unit and product after product. Thierry Lepercq is one of the most dynamic speakers I’ve seen in the cleantech arena — perhaps the most dynamic — and that is backed by a long and deep focus on the future, on transformative technology, and on steps to the future that most people can’t see. Engie’s CEO, Isabelle Kocher, is apparently the one behind Engie’s surprising focus on disruptive innovation, and Thierry was quick to give her the credit in his presentation and his interview with me, but that’s a story for a coming day.
Engie’s acquisition of EV-Box is a sign that the French giant, which is in essence ~200 years old, intends to integrate the charging company into its move to remain a global energy leader. Remaining a global energy leader is a dramatic challenge for companies like Engie, given how quickly the sector is changing and how hard it is for large corporations to move in nimble and shape-shifting ways. But that’s a key to the acquisition.
EV-Box is already the European leader in EV charging stations, and thus one of the global leaders. It has deployed 40,000 EV charging stations in 20 countries. It is one of a few top EV charging companies globally at this point.
See these articles for some more background:
— Monica Araya (@MonicaArayaTica) March 14, 2017
— EVConsult (@EVConsultNL) March 14, 2017
Engie is not coming in and kicking out the innovators who brought EV-Box so much market success. It seems the French company is basically letting EV-Box continue as a startup — but with the funding, connections, global reach, and advisory boost that Engie can offer.
The story of EV-Box, which I will publish in video format in the coming weeks, comes across as your typical garage startup story about a Silicon Valley kid who hit it big. However, this story wasn’t based in Silicon Valley and the company wasn’t started by a teenager or young kid in his (or her) 20s. The founder was one of the first people in the Netherlands to test out a Tesla Roadster. During that experience, he very quickly realized, “this is the future!” Quickly after that first realization came the realization that really led him to this success: “We need to develop the charging infrastructure.” (Note: Not direct quotes.)
EV-Box founder and CTO Bram van de Leur took the lead and developed EV-Box’s first charging station. He worked hard and got his product installed all over the Netherlands, supported by strong national government incentives for electric car purchases as well as city leadership (especially from Amsterdam). With enough success and scale, EV-Box has expanded into other markets, most recently the United States.
Without a doubt, Engie and EV-Box have strong growth plans. In a long one-on-one interview with Thierry Lepercq, he told me that Engie is basically eyeing three main markets with the businesses/products they acquire or develop — North America, Europe, and Asia. Hmm … no small plans.
— Hugo Pereira (@hugosbpereira) March 14, 2017
Thierry also made it clear to me that he sees this market as an extremely ripe one. It is on the verge of massive growth. His presentation at rEVolution highlighted what CleanTechnica readers often discuss down in the comments: “expert” projections on market growth are almost always linear — linear, linear, linear. However, disruptive technologies see J-curve growth, and as I highlighted in my presentation earlier in the day, the EV market is on the verge of breakout growth on that J-curve (or S-curve, depending on how you look at it in the grand scheme of things). The key point is that EVs (like solar) are at the early stage of an exponential growth trend.
Speaking with longtime EV enthusiast and market expert Roger Atkins the night before the conference (at our impromptu CleanTechnica meetup), Roger nailed the story with this metaphor: so many people and companies try to jump on the wave after it’s already formed, but the real leaders get on the wave just as it is forming. Those are the people and companies that get the market going and most deserve the credit.
EV-Box has been one of those leaders, and that leadership is paying off and looks set to pay off much more so in the coming years*.
Engie realizes that now is the time to become an EV charging leader. If not now, the market will be set and closed within a few years. For sure, EV-Box doesn’t lack competitors today. ChargePoint is entering the European market after receiving large investments from automotive giants Daimler and BMW iVentures (as well as investments from our forward-focused friend Michael Liebreich and others back in 2016). The green & orange chart above shows several other nearby competitors.
ChargePoint and EV-Box have quite different underlying ideologies regarding charging. ChargePoint is going with a closed-platform approach whereas EV-Box is focused on an open one. It’s the old Apple vs Android story. Which will be bigger and better in the end is something that can be debated for hours upon hours.
EVgo is another charging station leader focused on the open platform approach. It is just in North America at the moment, but it’s the leader in fast-charging stations there. In the midst of the EV-Box news and the recent ChargePoint news, I have to wonder what the company vision is. Is it — like Engie/EV-Box and ChargePoint — realizing that now is the time to try to become a global leader? Or is it content to try to scale up in the North American market and consider global expansion later? Do these charging companies need to conquer the globe to succeed? Or can we end up with great regional variation like we have today?
Another major Dutch player in the EV charging world is Fastned. The company routinely impresses me with its ecosystem-focused approach to EV charging and to business in general. It is the only EV charging company I know of that puts solar panels on the roofs of all of its charging stations. It now designs these stations in-house — superbly. The stations quickly catch the eye with their elegant design and signature yellow trim. The stations are also unique in that they all include charging capability for any type of EV — whether you drive a Renault Zoe, a Nissan LEAF, a BMW i3, or a Tesla Model X, you can charge at a Fastned station. In other words, they have CCS ports, CHAdeMO ports, and Tesla charging nozzles that utilize Tesla-supplied adapters.
But that’s again a bigger story for another time. The reason I bring it up is to emphasize these broader questions:
→ With the EV market on the verge of tremendous torque-inspired growth, will we continue to have decentralized regional leaders in the EV charging station market, the EV charging network market, the electric carsharing market, and the electric taxi market, or will lucky J-curve surfers quickly rise to become global brands that dominate most markets?
→ Which leading startups will become global brands?
→ Which current global business giants have the vision, leadership, and spreadsheet wizards to acquire, invest in, and incubate those brands?
Chime in with your thoughts down in the comments.
— Monica Araya (@MonicaArayaTica) March 14, 2017
*That’s not to say all leaders achieve such financial or practical success! Many are too ahead of the curve, get unlucky, don’t make the right connections, or just make one or two fatal missteps along the way.