I ran into an old acquaintance at the 2022 ACT Expo in Long Beach last week. Terry O’Day has been involved with electric vehicles for over 25 years, and our paths have crossed, indirectly or maybe directly, here and there, over the years. O’Day is currently the Chief Operating Officer of InCharge Energy, and we talked about how InCharge fits into the fleet charging environment in 2022, how thinking through total cost of ownership convinces fleet managers and how cheap solar panels can show us a way to get more EVs to more people. But first, a bit of history.
Terry O’Day: I’ve been in the EV charging business since 1996, it was my first job in my career and this is my fifth EV startup. My wife worked on the EV1 marketing and we were in the movie [2006’s Who Killed The Electric Car?].
Sebastian Blanco: [Disclaimer: I briefly appear in the sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car, released in 2011] It keeps becoming clear to me that the people who were working on EV passenger cars 10, 15, 20 years ago are now doing trucks.
TOD: That’s exactly the migration [laughs] I launched first rental car company in the country that rented only electric cars, called EV Rental Cars but I couldn’t get enough electric cars. Those were the dark years, but then the industry started coming back to life. I joined NRG Energy
SB: Your roots are deep.
TOD: I did EVgo and sold it to private equity. I stayed with the new leadership and then left to join Innogy eMobility US. My partner Cameron [Funk], who’s now CEO of InCharge Energy, we were at Innogy together. And then Innogy was being merged with a utility rival in Germany, so we left and we founded InCharge. We took what Cameron had built up the EV program for American Building Maintenance. They’re like the city behind the city. They run airports and large facilities, janitors, electricians. Cameron built an EV charging program for them and then built out the dealership networks for Honda, Jaguar, Audi, and Volkswagen. [For InCharge] we brought in a bunch of our friends on the notion we’re too old to work with a**holes and then essentially started to solve problems for fleets. The idea is that a fleet manager comes to this thinking about total cost of ownership. They get excited about a vehicle, typically, and then they go, ‘how do I charge it?’ And then they face this list of challenges. We show up at that moment, and we engage with them wherever they’re at, which could be to help them with facilities planning. We supply hardware. We supply software. Importantly, when you have a charger, it’s like having a dog. It takes a lot of care and feeding.
SB: We see that on social media all the time. Now that there are more EVs, more people are reporting problems.
TOD: We were a ChargePoint owner. So I know those problems and how to build systems for fleets to make them reliable. So, we’re solving problems for fleet managers that get them into business and then we keep them in business with software and technicians. We have a team of technicians across the country that are our own people in trucks, fixing charges for fleets.
SB: What’s new here at the ACT Expo?
TOD: We were part of Volvo’s announcements on Quality Custom Distribution [Note: Volvo announced during the ACT Expo that food distributor QCD has placed an order for 30 all-electric VNR Electrics trucks]. That’s a site that is starting with 30 Class 8 trucks doing daily deliveries for a coffee brand with a forest green logo. We’re doing that project in Southern California on a 20-year agreement with solar batteries and backup generators, and it comes in at a lower price and utility costs. The economics that we learned in passenger vehicles just get bigger on trucks.
SB: When you say it’s lower than the utility costs, what do you mean by that?
TOD: We’re generating using solar panels, and with the storage, it all comes in at a lower per kWh price. We are connected to the grid there, but we’re not doing a utility service upgrade. Most utilities are requiring 24 months to get infrastructure upgrades right now across the country, because they’re so busy. Our project is nine months, because we’re doing it ourselves. So that’s the kind of solution that we’re bringing to the market with our partners. Volvo has announced other sites with the same fleet but not for this type of a project. The previous ones were sort of pilot projects with one or two trucks. This is their first demonstration with 30 trucks, and the whole facility, in the next year and a half, should go electric. And then we will take that and that’s when you go to deployment, right? It’s pilot, demo, deploy. We also have a really great partnership with IC Bus. They have about a third of the school bus market. Moreno Valley has the largest electric school bus fleet in California, with 38 school buses. They are on their way to 100% electric, and we have done all their infrastructure, including software, services, hardware and planning. We manage the grants for them, all the credits and incentives. We’re a turnkey provider of solutions.
SB: You mentioned that the QCD project was a 20-year contract. Is that a common length of time for these kinds of things?
TOD: It’s common in renewable energy. So, the solar panels, the batteries and the generators, that’s a pretty common contract. The opportunity in fleets is to use those types of contracts for EVs, which is something of a Holy Grail. We haven’t been able to do that in the passenger vehicle market, yet, because expensive retail charging solutions don’t have a consistent utilization profile, like fleets that plug in every single day.
SB: And running the same routes every day.
TOD: That particular project runs the same routes 365 days a year. So now you can finance these and if you look at the renewable energy industry as an analogue to what we’re doing, renewables took off when you got low-cost solar panels from China. That’s what’s happening now on the battery side. When they came up with financing solutions that allow third parties to invest capital and own the solar panels and roll it out, it was sort of like a zero-down commitment to a property owner. That’s what EV charging can be in the fleet space, and why we’re leading with this notion of charging as a service.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.