Daimler’s Stefan Abraham: The process of finding and driving up to the charging station, charging the battery, and paying for the electricity will have to be seamlessly integrated into the customers’ daily lives in the future
Over the years, Daimler has evolved from an automaker into a provider of mobility services. The company’s focus is no longer solely on cars as a product, but also on mobility-related services. Charging options play a key role in this range of services.
Stefan Abraham is the Head of Operations at CASE, an innovative unit that pools Daimler’s future-oriented activities. The acronym “CASE” stands for the future-focused fields of Connected, Autonomous (driverless) driving, flexible use (Sharing), and Electric drive systems.
Mr. Abraham, is it dangerous to charge an electric vehicle at a household socket?
Stefan Abraham: Charging doesn’t pose a danger when you use conventional standardized power plug systems such as CCS in Europe. If you don’t stick such plugs properly into a socket, the current won’t flow and the system simply shuts itself off. The charging process is automatically monitored at all times, and a locking mechanism prevents the plug from being accidentally pulled out of the socket. I’m convinced that vehicle sockets and charging stations will be as familiar to us in the future as filling a gas tank is to us now.
Is it worthwhile to install one’s own private charging system?
In the future, customers will charge electricity wherever the opportunity presents itself. There’s already a wide variety of ways that this can be done. We believe that 80 to 90 percent of the charging processes will take place at home or at work, because customers spend most of their time there. Depending on the car in question, household sockets can suffice, particularly for plug-in hybrids, because their batteries aren’t very big. However, before you carry out your first charging process at an older home, you should have an electrician check to see that the household electrical system is up to the task. The bigger the battery is, the more sense it makes to install a more powerful charging system. We already sell corresponding wall boxes with up to 22 kilowatts of charging power. Such outputs can be integrated into the household electrical system and achieve reasonable charging times. Additional interesting possibilities will arise here in the future, because intelligent technology will, for example, select the most favorable electricity price at any given time. You can bring the energy transition straight into your home by combining a wall box with a household storage unit and a renewable source of energy. However, given that vehicles are stationary for so long at home, private customers don’t have to worry about installing rapid charging stations, because they would be too big.
What role does charging technology play for CASE?
The availability of charging opportunities plays a crucial role in the public acceptance of electric mobility.
That’s why our new product and technology brand for electric mobility, EQ, offers our customers a comprehensive electric mobility ecosystem consisting of products, services, and technologies. The charging process plays a crucial role here in all areas — at home, at work, on the highway, in public spaces, as well as for our fleet customers.
In addition to focusing on the charging process at work and at home, we are also concentrating on public charging systems. For example, together with other manufacturers we recently established the joint venture Ionity to create a Europe-wide network of fast-charging stations. Moreover, we are working on solutions for fleet customers, because they have different requirements. It goes without saying that we are also equipping our dealer network for this purpose. We also want to create the framework conditions that will enable our employees to charge their electric vehicles at work. At Daimler AG, we have installed a total of 1,400 charging stations for our employees and visitors throughout Germany. That’s more than twice as many as the number of public charging stations in Berlin. When we talk about vehicle charging, of course we mustn’t forget about payment. We want to offer our customers a holistic solution that will enable them to charge electricity everywhere without encountering any obstacles. Ideally, they will only have to register once and will need only a single contract.
Would such a solution mean we would no longer have to bother with a wide variety of cards from different energy companies?
We are working on a holistic solution for our customers. We know that the car by itself won’t be the only decisive factor. What counts will be the overall package. Our objective is intuitive mobility, which means nothing less than the fact that the process of finding and driving up to the charging station, charging the battery, and paying for the electricity will have to be seamlessly integrated into the customers’ daily lives in the future.
Cross-border transportation is an especially important consideration for us in Europe.
When will inductive charging technology be available on the market on a large scale?
We are closely investigating this technology, and we will launch a solution on the market at the appropriate time. Vehicle sockets are currently the accepted state-of-the-art system all over the world.
What requirements does a charging infrastructure have to meet in order to be fit for the future?
For private systems, we offer an installation service in which a consultant visits the customer’s home to determine which infrastructure measures are needed. An important consideration for fleet customers is of course whether the solution is expandable. That’s why we use a modular concept for such customers. For example, fleet operators who start out with only a few vehicles want to be able to easily scale up the solution as the number of their electric vehicles increases. We are working together with a number of partners to develop appropriate solutions for our customers. We provide companies with advice on scalable infrastructures, and our experts determine how things such as load management and stationary energy storage units could be used to ensure that sufficient charging capacity is available at all times.
Ionity is creating a network of fast-charging stations along Europe’s highways. Do you also have plans to create a similar infrastructure in urban and rural areas?
In general, we think that the gap in the public arena is less important than the lack of charging opportunities for customers who drive long distances and also want to recharge their vehicles very quickly. That’s why we are working together with other manufacturers to create the Ionity fast-charging network, which will encompass a total of 400 charging facilities with thousands of charging stations throughout Europe by 2020. Other than that, public and private networks are both growing rapidly at the moment. This growth is currently sufficient, from our perspective. We also don’t see any strategic drawbacks in rural areas, because the people living there mainly charge vehicles at their own stations. But of course we are also regularly monitoring the situation. Our ultimate aim is to offer our electric vehicle customers a complete package that is sure to impress them. This package also includes the infrastructure.
Will the new solid batteries that will be launched on the market in a few years create new challenges for the charging systems?
We are currently using a standardized system throughout Europe. We expect the CCS combo plug to remain the benchmark during the next few years, no matter how batteries develop.
Let’s take a look into the future. When will there be parking garages in which electric vehicles help to ensure grid stability?
You can find enough battery capacity for such solutions wherever there are large numbers of electric vehicles that are parked for long periods of time without recharging. This can evolve into a business model and is, of course, a very interesting option for fleet operators.
What does the term “EQ charging ecosystem” mean at CASE?
We basically assume that in the future we won’t just be selling cars as products — instead, we’ll be offering a complete mobility package. In addition to hardware, this package will also include services and additional offers. The offers will mainly cover charging-related measures that we will implement to promote electric mobility.
How do you think electric mobility will develop in the future?
Let me first point out that all of us will be driving electrically in some form in the future. We think that cars will navigate intuitively through the charging environment. The car will suggest routes that coincide with the battery’s current charge level and will, if necessary, guide the customer to a charging station. In the process it will of course also take other electric vehicles into account and will reserve the appropriate charging stations along the route in line with its expected arrival time. The vehicle will be recharged quickly or normally, depending on whether the driver is on vacation or on a business trip. The cost of the electricity will be automatically billed after the charging process is completed. The current debates regarding electric driving will then definitely be a thing of the past.
The CASE unit at Daimler combines the four main topics that will thoroughly transform the automotive industry in the years ahead. Besides connectivity (i.e. the networking of automobiles with one another and with the infrastructure), the focus is on driverless driving, sharing (mobility without ownership, but only as a user), and electric drive.