OEMs Band Together to Boost Public Charging

A former executive at EVGO and Electrify America will lead the Ionna public charging network funded by a group of seven automakers with help from the federal government.

David Kiley, Senior Editor

February 13, 2024

3 Min Read
Ionna, along with Tesla, means to meet consumer demand for reliable highway public charging.

BMW, Honda, Hyundai, General Motors, Kia, Stellantis and Mercedes-Benz are working on adding 30,000 public battery-electric-vehicle charging stations under the brand name Ionna across the U.S. by 2030.

The effort, subsidized in part by federal and state governments, has the potential of rivaling the quality and reliability of Tesla’s charging stations if the start-up can get it right. With OEMs’ brand reputation and BEV product investments on the line, automakers perhaps can succeed where some of the BEV charging companies operating today have faltered.

The business plan calls for allowing the stations to use both the CCS charging protocol or the North American Charging Standard and will work with the brand’s own payment and route planning apps in addition to other payment apps.

The strategy calls for most of the stations to be located along highways and in urban areas, addressing a glaring need among consumers who fear running out of power, especially on long highway trips. Some of the stations are intended to be super-premium recharging locations with retail, workstations (to work while charging) and other services to maximize profitability while drivers wait for cars to recharge.

Ionna is benchmarking both Tesla and a successful European charging network called Ionity. Both companies have established reputations for the most reliable charging networks.

Ionna has named Seth Cutler to the CEO post. Cutler previously was president and chief operating officer of the charge network EVgo and was a chief infrastructure engineer at Electrify America.

Tesla is the undisputed leader in charging in the U.S., and automakers including GM, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz have struck deals with the BEV manufacturer to allow their cars to use Tesla chargers, including fast chargers.

According to a recent report by global consulting firm McKinsey, access to public charging remains a top consideration for “skeptical” consumers who don’t own BEVs. Forty-two percent of respondents say they are waiting for public charging to become as available as gas stations before they buy a BEV.

Efforts to establish reliable public charging has been full of short circuits, including a high percentage of non-working and otherwise broken chargers.

When Volkswagen reached legal settlements with the federal government and the state of California over its “Dieselgate” offenses, the automaker agreed to build a wide network of public chargers under the Electrify America moniker. But that network, as well as others like PlugShare and EVgo have suffered mechanical and software problems, vandalism and prolonged obstacles obtaining permits to install chargers.

Each Ionna station is intended to have between six and 10 charging stalls capable of charging at 350 kW and sheltered from weather in well-lit, secure locations.

The McKinsey report says 42% of its survey respondents made speed of charging the first consideration when evaluating the charging experience, while 35% said cost of charging was their priority. Twenty-one-percent said the safety of charging locations was their biggest concern.

Especially during ramp-up over the next five years, profitability of Ionna’s operations is not likely. But profits are not the priority. Subsidized by the OEMs and governments, the priority is geographic coverage, reliability and safety, and usage. Ultimately, the purpose of a well-run network is to set a standard of quality public charging and to incentivize BEV purchasing.

About the Author(s)

David Kiley

Senior Editor, WardsAuto

David Kiley is an award winning journalist. Prior to joining WardsAuto, Kiley held senior editorial posts at USA Today, Businessweek, AOL Autos/Autoblog and Adweek, as well as being a contributor to Forbes, Fortune, Popular Mechanics and more.

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