How to Grow a European Charging Powerhouse from Scratch within Five Years
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Michael Brecht: Hi Michael, could you kindly introduce yourself to our MOTION readers in one hundred words?

Michael Hajesch: Since IONITY was founded in November 2017, I am the Managing Director and CEO. We build and operate high-power charging stations to enable electric travel for everyone. I am responsible for leading IONITY’s mission in establishing our pan-European high-power charging network, that is connecting European cities with 100% renewable electricity.

I have been working in the automotive industry for almost 20 years. Being part of the evolution and supporting the transformation in the industry, to a more sustainable approach across Europe, has always been a big part of my work.

I am proud of the IONITY team achievements to date, which is a solid foundation for further growth of the company.

Now let us continue with a few short personal questions to get to know you better:

Which car do you drive?

I drive an Audi e-tron since I started as CEO of IONITY.

Your longest journey with an electric car?

In summer with the family to the French Atlantic coast. We drove approx. 1,300 kilometres one-way, on our way back via several cities, i.e. a total distance of over 3,000 km. We used AC charging with 22kW and 50kW chargers in smaller villages, but also HPC chargers.

Who would be your perfect co-driver for the long haul?

My wife.

Driver or passenger?

On the long haul, I alternate between the two to have a bit of relaxation, but actually I prefer to be the driver.

Michael, I am very pleased that we meet here in Munich today. Our first meeting was at the Nordic EV Summit in Oslo almost exactly one year ago, a few hours before Private Equity Firm Blackrock joined IONITY. That was an exciting year for you, wasn't it?

Absolutely, actually every year at IONITY has been exciting and will continue to be. IONITY is active as a charging solution provider with HPC (High Power Charging) infrastructure here in Europe. The e-mobility market is developing very dynamically in terms of market ramp-up and infrastructure, and if we take a look at how technological, regulatory and overall requirements and framework conditions are changing, we see that it is extremely dynamic and therefore also very, very exciting.

IONITY as a company just turned five years old. Can we talk a little bit about IONITY's numbers and successes until today? For our readers not familiar with the company: IONITY is a joint venture of the car manufacturers BMW Group, Ford Motor Company, Hyundai Motor Group, Mercedes Benz AG and Volkswagen Group with Audi and Porsche, joined by BlackRock’s Global Renewable Power platform as financial investor in 2021.

Five years ago, when IONITY was founded, it was exactly the right decision of the shareholders, i.e. the OEMs, to actively enter the field of charging infrastructure. In 2017, there was no HPC infrastructure with more than 150 kW live in the field. If we look at it today, almost five years later: we are live and present with over 430 stations in 24 countries, and we have over 1,900 charging points available at our stations. And we exceeded our initial targets and already entered the next growth phase because the charging market is developing so rapidly. We have built up the company in such a way that we now employ approximately 200 people.

In our first years, partnerships had to be established in all these 24 countries, which of course now support us in the acquisition of site partners or land. Planning services for our stations going live, construction services, commissioning - we had to take care of hardware procurement, as we do not develop our own charging equipment, but buy it on the market. Currently, there are two large manufacturers for our charging stations: Tritium and ABB. All of this needs to be rolled out in the field and then operations start. We rely on seamless operations in order to provide our charging service and we have achieved all this in five years - a truly great achievement of the IONITY team to have done this.

The demand for fast charging stations has increased dramatically in the last 12-24 months, to what extent does the 'further development' of existing locations play a role for IONITY?

We are in the middle of the expansion of our existing charging infrastructure. Each day we see the increase in usage data of many locations. Charging infrastructure is also a seasonal business: more charging takes place in the mornings and evenings, as well as on weekends and especially during the holiday season, and this is particularly the case for long-distance charging. And, of course we see stations that are running at high capacity. We will continue to expand at existing locations, but we are also working at full speed to increase the density of our network.

On the one hand, this densification means building more stations in the 24 countries along the long-distance routes – but what about the cities?

Well, in our growth phase for the next 3-5 years, we will primarily grow on the long-distance routes, because we see an enormous demand there. It is simply our core business and our core competence. But, of course High Power Charging also makes total sense in the cities, because you can serve a lot of demand with fast chargers in a short time. The city typically has a space problem in terms of hosting charging infrastructure - so charging hubs in cities equipped with fast chargers offer a huge opportunity to accelerate the mobility and energy transition here. We are already present in some cities. Madrid, Wolfsburg are examples, but you also find us in locations very close to the cities on ring roads and arterial roads – like in Manchester, where we have some stations in planning stage.

If you look at your current growth, the expansion with partners also involves risks, of course. A potential partner who perhaps previously came from the oil and gas industry and operates gas-stations may one day have an interest of operating new charging stations on its own. Is that a challenge for IONITY as an independent market participant?

All in all, we see partnerships as a great opportunity, especially today they are a key time-to-market enabler. Let's look at the first phase: without the partnerships of the OEMs who founded this company in the first place, we would never have got to where we are today. Without partnerships with oil and gas companies, who have given us their properties, which we rent accordingly on a long-term basis, where we have built our stations, we would never have been able to build this network in such short time. The partnerships in planning services, construction services in the individual countries, for hardware, software ... all this has enabled us to provide our network so reliably.

Of course, the economic environment changes and the goals of our partners evolve, but we also have the opportunity to grow accordingly. We are already in the process of fully exploring our own sites for own locations, and we are succeeding every day in acquiring further locations that will not be constructed with existing partners. We are effectively preparing them as our locations of the future.

Michael Hajesch, Managing Director & CEO @ IONITY

Who is the classic IONITY customer - does one exist?

That's everyone, because we have an 'open for everyone - everywhere' network as we are not tied to any single manufacturer. All vehicles are welcome to charge with us and so we also see the entire society sitting in the electric car charging.  

Good point - are there actually Tesla drivers who use the IONITY service?

Of course! A large customer group, also for us.

It is a common fact, that a so-called ‘charging experience’ at the fast-charging stations remains below its potential, which is particularly valid for the current market leader with its Superchargers. When will we see IONITY stations with their own services to avoid poor experiences with adjacent service-offerings?

First of all, we have to say that IONITY is already present at locations where the services are right next door. There are site partnerships at locations where a cup of coffee, a pizza or similar is offered, at shopping malls, supermarkets, etc. - this offer exists today. But we will look at this in terms of the customer experience, which starts with a reliable, comfortable charging process that customers can rely on. And then there are other 'convenience aspects', for example, how is the parking space designed, is it a drive-through solution, is it a 90-degree parking solution, do we have a roof above the chargers, are there amenities or whatever the customer expects immediately available from us, or are they next door. That's where we will definitely develop further in the future and I could well imagine that we’ll also have sites where partners who have this business as their core business make corresponding offers on our sites. But let us be clear: IONITY will not enter the coffee business.

The entry of the private equity investor Blackrock via its Global Renewable Power platform jointly with the existing shareholders, all investing 700 million Euros in November 2021 was a huge commitment. What has changed in these twelve months?

The market environment has changed. Of course, we now have a shareholder structure that has grown to include another major partner, who has also signed a clear and demanding growth strategy here together with our existing partners. This gives us the stability and security to continue developing our business over the next few years. I think it is very important, especially in the turbulent economic conditions we are currently facing, to consistently expand the network. For the time being, little will change in the operative business because the goals are clear, the growth strategy has been adopted and we have to implement it consistently.

The goal was 7,000 charging points by 2025, today there are 1,800 with 400 charging parks. That's an average of a good four charging points per charging park today, where is the leverage? On the expansion of existing locations, or on the development of new locations?

Again, the answer is that both are important for us. As already mentioned, we will build over 1,000 locations, and we have to plan these locations in a correspondingly ambitious way. That means offering significantly more charging points or at least better flexibility for further expansion than we have perhaps known so far. This is the only way we can meet the rapidly increasing demand. Incidentally, I personally believe that we will see significantly more charging points than predicted a year ago. By the way, IONITY will remain exclusively in Europe, which is a region we are very good at. We are well positioned here with our partnerships. Europe is one of the fastest growing regions in terms of the energy and mobility transition, and there is so much potential here for our business that we will continue to focus on Europe.

This has been a highly interesting talk, Michael, any last comments you’d like to make?

For me, it is really important that we emphasise the sustainability aspect in addition to a first-class customer experience. We only offer green electricity in all countries. It is essential for me, that we as a charging services provider ensure that the electricity used is generated and used sustainably, which in turn leads to a reduction in one's own CO2 footprint.

Another vital point for me is the fact that IONITY is the first network in Europe to offer 'Plug & Charge' in every country, provided that your vehicle supports this technology. Plug & Charge technology has the power to turn the market towards electric drives, because it makes charging super convenient for the end customer.

Thanks again Michael, these are fascinating times - we’ll be back for IONITY’s tenth birthday, at the latest.

Photos courtesy of IONITY.