On-demand mobile charging app is like 'UberEats' for hungry electric cars
It’s often the first question the EV-curious ask: “What do you do if you run out of charge?” My stock answer: “When was the last time you ran out of gasoline, and what did you do?” For most of us, running out of gas probably evokes memories of our first driving experiences, back in high school. However, it does happen, and if it does, you won’t need to be towed to a gas station—a local AAA affiliate can bring out a can full of gas and get you right back on the road. A similar service needs to be available for electric vehicles—a portable fast charging system that can put life back into a dead battery and let an unfortunate EV driver continue their journey.
Above: A look at on demand charging with a new app (Source: SparkCharge)
Portable charging on demand is the niche that SparkCharge is looking to fill with its new app platform, BoostEV. The company’s modular, portable system—called the Roadie—is designed to make DC fast charging mobile. Now, EV drivers can order a charge at the push of a button on a smartphone app in any of the cities where BoostEV operates (as of this writing, that includes Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Raleigh, Richmond, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Cruz).
SparkCharge’s partners include companies that offer roadside assistance, such as Allstate Roadside, Spiffy and Urgently. However, SparkCharge co-founder and CEO Joshua Aviv envisions many other applications for BoostEV, which he describes as “the app that lets electric vehicle owners charge their EVs anywhere with the click of a button—like UberEats or GrubHub for hungry EVs.”
In a recent interview with Charged, Joshua Aviv explains his vision of “charging as a service.”
When it comes to the business model, I think previously people saw us as a roadside use case, and while that’s true, BoostEV is not just roadside—it’s on-demand. It’s charging as a service, or CAAS. Anytime, anywhere, push a button, get range delivered. One of the things we realized as we were growing as a company, was that the way that people live, the way the technology grows, a lot of things end up in this convenience standpoint. For example, with Instacart, my grocery store now lives on my phone. With Uber, my chauffer lives on my phone. With Grubhub and DoorDash, my delivery guy lives on my phone. So, we started out with this notion that we want the charging station to live on your phone now.
We realized that we had this amazing core piece of technology, the hardware, the Roadie, and that if we wanted to really solve the problem of infrastructure, we needed to be able to get it in the hands of as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. We looked at the way that other industries have gone. Almost every industry has gone with this convenience on-demand approach. And we said, “Well, we’re in the perfect position to do that for electric vehicles.”
I remember the defining moment—we were talking to an EV owner and he said, “Every time I charge my car at a Supercharger or at another charging station,” it was a planned trip. “You have to plan your day, your journey around going there.” So, we said, “How can we bring freedom back to EV ownership?” And the way to do that is to put that power back in the hands of EV owners to where now it’s not a planned experience. It’s not a planned part of your day. It’s “Hey, I’m literally pulling into work. I want an extra 100 miles, 50 miles.” I pull out my phone and I get it done. It’s now becoming as easy and simplistic as ordering food.
I want to be able to take my phone out, no matter where I am, and be able to push a button and have someone come charge my car. That’s why we started developing BoostEV, and we already had the technology to go along with it. So, it was a great platform for us to build out, and once we built it, people kind of resonated with it. 90% of our partner companies aren’t roadside service. They’re OEMs, they’re insurance, they’re utilities, they’re mom-and-pop companies. Some of the people that we work with that are covering these cities, previously, they were Uber Eats or Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, and they said, “Well, I can be delivering goods or delivering people, but now with BoostEV, I can start delivering range, delivering electricity to people.” So, we’ve had people join the platform and basically start a business delivering range instead of goods or services.
Above: On-demand mobile charging (Source: SparkCharge)
We’ve got providers in about 12 cities right now. The app is live, so people can download the app and then actually start requesting the range on that day. Each business sets their own pricing, and we’ve seen pricing go as little as 10 bucks per charge. Some will set a flat price, and some will do it based on distance. If you’re a hundred miles away from where they’re located, they may be a fee.
Our goal is to be the fastest-growing EV network in the country. With regular charging stations, or what we like to call legacy infrastructure, you have to get the permits, do the RFP, do the construction, put the pole in the ground, get it set up, order the utility, yada, yada, yada. With us, it’s basically take it out of the box, plug it in.
BoostEV is not roadside-focused. If you run out of range, you can definitely have it delivered via BoostEV, but this really is an on-demand charging-as-a-service platform. It’s meant to be able to charge an EV whenever you want it—at home, at the grocery store, outside of Starbucks, when you’re at the mall, sitting on your couch in your living room. “Hey, Alexa, charge my car 50 miles.” Someone comes and shows up in your driveway. We’re really focusing this on convenience charging. Yes, we work with roadside companies, but BoostEV is not a roadside-focused app.
For example, you’re at the grocery store and you say, “I’m going to be in here for at least 30 minutes to an hour,” push a button on your phone and when you come out from the grocery store, you’ve got your range. I’m going into a mall, need to charge the car. I’m visiting a friend, they don’t have a charger at their house, push a button, it comes to me. I’m at work, they don’t offer charging, push a button, it’s already there, go out, it’s done.
One of the things when companies talk to us is, “Well, the problem with legacy infrastructure is if I install one charging station, I can charge one car. Maybe I can charge two if I have two nozzles.” The moment a second or third car shows up, there’s a wait. Now I’ve got to install more poles. Now I’ve got to take up more space. With BoostEV, every parking spot, every location, is a charging station. We’re going to start working with cities, so you could be at Times Square and park your car on the street, scan a QR code on the pay meter, and now that’s a charging station, someone’s coming to charge your car.
Literally anywhere you drive your car, anywhere you park your car, that is now a charging station—that’s the power of BoostEV. A network that’s on demand and lives on your phone. There is no need for that legacy infrastructure. You can park your car and charge your car.
In May, SparkCharge released a next-generation mobile charging system, the RoadieCCS (the service can also charge CHAdeMO-equipped vehicles, and Teslas). It also introduced ChargeUp, a new charging delivery service, that “is available to EV drivers as a $25 monthly subscription. Subscribers receive DC fast charging delivered to their vehicles at their homes, office parking lots, street parking or wherever their vehicles are.”
“It’s been really fun to see the reaction of people when they learn that they can have someone come to their car and charge it all month for only $25,” says Aviv. “Most people pay more than that in a week at a public charging station and twice that for a month of home charging.”
Above: A look at when the SparkCharge founders pitched their business on the popular ABC show Shark Tank (YouTube: ABC)
The announced price is so low, in fact, that many are skeptical about whether the company will be able to sustain it. Whatever the pricing structure ends up being, however, it’s certain that an on-demand, mobile charging service will be a necessary part of the EV infrastructure ecosystem—and that SparkCharge, which scored an avalanche of publicity following a recent appearance on the hit TV show Shark Tank, is an up-and-coming innovator in the space.
This is a condensed and updated version of an article that originally appeared in Charged. Author: Charles Morris.