Charging on the Run | Episode 23

  March 22, 2021

What if you didn't have to worry about where, when and how you would find your next opportunity to recharge your EV? SparkCharge thinks those barriers are a thing of the past. In an effort to improve the ownership experience of an EV, SparkCharge wants consumers to have their desired range delivered directly to them, whenever they want it. How? We spoke with the founder and CEO of SparkCharge, Joshua Aviv, to learn more about where they see the future of mobile recharging heading and how SparkCharge plans on getting there.

Transcript

John Eichberger:
Hey everybody. Welcome to Carpool Chats. I'm John Eichberger with the Fuels Institute. Today, we're going to be talking about electric vehicle charging with the founder and CEO of a mobile recharging company called SparkCharge. It's a fantastic concept and I can't wait to dive into it. Joshua Aviv, thank you very much for joining us on Carpool Chats. Welcome.

Joshua Aviv:
Well, thank you for having me. Super excited to talk with you guys today. Super excited to learn more about what you guys are doing.

John Eichberger:
Well, I'm actually more into learning about what you're doing, but I think it's going to be a great conversation. I mean, you guys have kind of made a whole bunch of news lately with mobile recharging. Can you tell us a little bit about SparkCharge, how you got started and what you guys are doing?

Joshua Aviv:
Yeah, absolutely. So we started SparkCharge in my dorm room at Syracuse University. I was a Econ major, took a professor's class. And I remember him coming in and saying, "If you want to change the world, solve the problem of infrastructure for electric vehicles." And I was really, really, really excited to learn more about that. And I remember meeting with him after class and just started learning about the electric vehicle industry and the cars that were coming out, the range, the problems, and came up with the idea for SparkCharge where basically an electric vehicle owner, to be able to have range delivered to them anytime, anywhere they want. Essentially from a high level of that.

John Eichberger:
No, go ahead. I mean, I was just going to comment, starting in a dorm room it's very Zuckerberg and Michael Dell view. So maybe the sky is the limit here, right?

Joshua Aviv:
Maybe, who knows? I think we're really positioned really well. I always joke around and say we had to be three years early to be on time. Right? We started this company 2017 and the EV industry is just now starting to really take off like a rocket ship. So it's great timing to be in the industry.

John Eichberger:
Well, I think you're absolutely right. This is the right time. So we launched an electric vehicle council last year at the Fuels Institute with the whole focus on how do we build infrastructure? What are the economics? What are the needs? What are the capabilities? What are the options? And then one of the things we've been looking at is the cost of infrastructure for EV charging is really high. And that's a real big deterrent to a lot of organizations on businesses trying to make the investment, because right now there's no return on investment. You guys have kind of solved that to a large extent haven't you?

Joshua Aviv:
Yeah, we have. I mean, when you think about it, being able to remove the barriers to electric vehicle adoption, being able to remove the where, when and how out of someone charging their car, is a huge benefit. I mean, it's a benefit to the OEMs, it's now easier to sell cars. It's a benefit to the consumer. It's now easy to enjoy the car and get a better experience out of driving electric vehicle than you would even out of a ICE car or gasoline made car.

John Eichberger:
Describe the technology you guys put together? What are the capabilities? And what's kind of the outlook for the system?

Joshua Aviv:
Absolutely. So we really have two core pieces of technology. Number one is something we call the Roadie, that is our DC fast charger. We like to joke around and say we shrunk a Tesla supercharger to something that now you can carry it in your hands, right? It's a portable ultra-fast and intelligent DC fast charger that can charge an electric vehicle at a rate of one mile, every 60 seconds. The cool factor about it is that you can carry it in your hand. It can fit into the trunk of your Toyota Prius. It can be delivered to an electric vehicle owner anywhere at any time they want. There is no location where this unit can't be stationed or can't be deployed to service an electric vehicle owner. On top of that, it's modular.

Joshua Aviv:
So we like to think of it as Lego blocks of range. Basically what we did was we allowed each provider and electric vehicle owner to choose how much range they need and then have it delivered. So you can connect as many modules as you want, stack them together and then send that energy directly into the car on a form factor that's scalable, portable, and modular.

John Eichberger:
So each module can carry how much juice? I mean, if I have a three module, a unit, how many miles can I get out of that?

Joshua Aviv:
Yeah, I think version one, right now, each individual module can I think go up to about 15 miles per module. And then you connect as many miles as you want. So you could theoretically send 60 miles, a 100 miles into the car, depending on the configuration that you have.

John Eichberger:
So I actually left the little Porsche on the side, I just ordered the Wrangler 4Xe plug-in-hybrid Jeep Wrangler. Has a 25 mile fully electric range. And I'm thinking if I'm going, off-roading, I'm going to be going longer. And I want to go silent 25 miles is not that far, but I can throw a couple of these things in the back end of my Jeep and double that range pretty easily, can't I?

Joshua Aviv:
You could. Theoretically yes.

John Eichberger:
Yeah. That's pretty cool. Because everybody is looking for that extra range. I'm just looking to see how do we get more miles out of our EV than it's already listed for and that's fantastic. Now, are you guys doing any stationary installations? Are you guys working with any businesses to kind of put these in place on a more permanent basis? Or is it all to the customer on demand?

Joshua Aviv:
Right now it's to the customer on demand. We believe that mobile charging allows you to be flexible. We'll actually be rolling out a service called BoostEV Unlimited, and I believe a couple of weeks or so that will really take that to the next level. You'll be able to essentially choose where you want the range, how you want the range and have it delivered essentially with the push of a button.

John Eichberger:
So right now you guys are, I think you said, one mile per 60 seconds of plug-in, is that right?

Joshua Aviv:
Correct.

John Eichberger:
Okay. Any chance of the system getting an acceleration to that? So people, say they need a 50 mile charge and 15 minutes of that, is that on the horizon you think?

Joshua Aviv:
Absolutely. I can't reveal too much, but we will definitely be rolling out stations with more energy, faster speed. Version one is where we're starting, but it's definitely not the end all be all. We will have stations come out that have far more capacity and sometimes a lot more speed.

John Eichberger:
And how long have you guys been around? I think it's almost six years, right? Something like that.

Joshua Aviv:
Company. We became a C-corp in 2017.

John Eichberger:
Okay. So you guys have made some huge progress in just a few couple of years.

Joshua Aviv:
Absolutely.

John Eichberger:
That's fantastic. One of the things we've been looking at for retail operators and I'm mentioning that the ROI is just not there, it's really hard to justify an investment. One of the reasons is the operating costs. The demand charges they hit you. And I understand all that from the utility side, but that makes the economics so challenging. And one of the things a lot of people are looking at is this whole battery buffered system where you are recharging a battery stack, similar to what you guys are doing, but in a stationary capacity and then redistributing it on demand when the customers pull up. I think what you guys have done is taken that concept and you just basically put it on a wheel so you can take it anywhere you want to go. And it just takes away so much of the economic complexities making charging EVs a viable business situation.

Joshua Aviv:
Yeah, I think so. I mean, in a couple of weeks when we roll out BoostEV Unlimited, I think you'll see that the use cases for how people drive their electric vehicles, the freedom around driving your electric vehicle is really going to shift. Right? Imagine being able to wake up every morning, regardless of if you live in a house with a garage or an apartment complex or wherever, being able to have that freedom to wake up every morning on a full charge, right? You go to the office, you can charge it. When you're at your kid's baseball game, you can have someone come and charge your car, right? When you're at the grocery store, your car is charging, right? And it's all done through your phone. Where we kind of see the future, we believe that the charging station should live on your phone.

Joshua Aviv:
We believe that there're really, the way that the industry is going with Instacart, my grocery store lives on my phone. With Uber and My Chauffeur lives on my phone. With GrubHub my pizza guy lives on my phone. We believe that with BoostEV and SparkCharge, essentially the charging station should live on your phone as well. Tearing down the need for massive amounts of infrastructure, tearing down the walls to where you live, dictating how you can buy an electric vehicle or drive an electric vehicle. Really just ultimately putting the freedom of driving the car back in the hands of the EV owner.

John Eichberger:
I think it's essential. And one of the things we know is going to happen is the OEMs are going to basically convert their dashboard into a mobile commerce system. And you're going to be able to find anything you want through probably a voice activated search system in your vehicle. And we're going to need multiple opportunities to charge. People are going to want to charge at a traditional convenience fuel retail. And they're going to want to charge at a grocery. They're going to want to charge at a restaurant, but they're going to use multiple opportunities. And if there's somewhere like you said, if they're at the kid's baseball game, they're running a little low on juice and they can get another 40, 50 miles while the kids playing baseball, what a great opportunity that is to keep them mobile and take away that range anxiety.

John Eichberger:
As you were describing, I started thinking about, people go to these festivals, like these music festivals, and if they're going to be taking EVs, and sometimes these are way out in the middle of nowhere, there may be an opportunity. If you guys would go up and set up a bank of these chargers to recharge the vehicles while they're in the festival, make sure they have an option to get home. Have you guys thought about that type of event centric, mass charging opportunity that might exist?

Joshua Aviv:
Absolutely not only with events, but think about natural disasters too. Right? So, the event is a great scenario. Hey, we've got a parking lot full of cars, can you come around and charge them? They could be on a dirt lot of gravel lot or wherever, and there's no place for infrastructure. That's the place where we step in and we're able to charge those cars right there at the point of charging location. Another great one is with natural disaster. So setting up base camps where electric vehicle owners, especially when the power's out or when the grid is down, how do you charge an electric vehicle? Right? And if you can set up, if the utility companies have set up base camps where you can come get food and water, and now you can also come charge your car at that location too, so that you can either get out of that situation and move on to another one.

John Eichberger:
And that's a huge issue. I mean, one of the things we talk about the future of electric vehicles, a lot of those people are skeptical about what EVs can do. What about the ice storms in Texas? What about a hurricane in Florida and evacuation routes? What are we going to do there? What do we do about first responders who may be using electric vehicles? There's no power, how are they going to get charged? So you're actually looking at how do you deliver a service and these need case scenarios, and that's going to be so absolutely essential. If we're going to become more reliant on EVs, we need to have reliability, dependability. We cannot get ourselves in a situation where we actually cannot drive our vehicles. If we do that, we're in big, big trouble. So, I'm excited you're looking at that because I hadn't even thought about that application when I first started looking into your company.

Joshua Aviv:
Absolutely. It's going to be a big market.

John Eichberger:
Now, the other question I have is, when we started thinking about charging vehicles, it's the availability of electricity. Are you guys basically having a warehouses where you set up additional power come in to charge these batteries overnight and then deploy them? Or how are you getting electricity and making sure that your mobile chargers are constantly juiced up?

Joshua Aviv:
Yeah. I mean, we designed to be relatively easy to charge, right? You plug it into a wall and you charge. Is the same wall outlet that you charge your phone or laptop on. It's meant to be convenient. It's meant to be simple. It's meant to be easy. And the best part is, is that if you're getting power from solar or alternative energy, then you can recharge the units off of that as well. Right? So a lot of our partners, they have solar powering their warehouses or buildings or facilities, and they're just plugging in and it's cheap energy.

John Eichberger:
So one of the other questions I have as a newer company, what is your geographic operating region right now? Are you guys fairly locally isolated? Are you guys on a national scope? Or where are you right now? Where do you think your growth path is going to be?

Joshua Aviv:
Yeah, I mean, we're growing extremely fast where I think we're in somewhere close to 12 cities already across the United States. We'll be looking to expand into European market pretty soon. Once we've got more coverage here in the United States, but I mean, we're growing relatively quick. I think we're in 12 cities already looking to be in maybe 15, 20 by the end of the year.

John Eichberger:
I saw on your website, I was looking at some of the pictures of the charging events you've had and you have basically capability to charge any EV. So I guess, I'm assuming you have CHAdeMO, CCS and Tesla adopters. So if any customer has an EV can utilize your services, is that how you've solved that? Because one of the other challenge that we have on stationary installation is, right now Tesla has a 75% market share. And so if you're not servicing that company, that brand, you're kind of limiting yourself to the market opportunities that may exist. But at the same time, in a couple of years, their market share is not going to be that dominant because so many other EVs are coming in the market and you'll be able to service all units. Have you guys solved that problem?

Joshua Aviv:
Repeat that again. Sorry. I came through [inaudible 00:13:40].

John Eichberger:
Have you figured out a way to charge any vehicle? I mean, because Tesla has their proprietary charge, but you need to be able to charge Teslas and GM general motors and Fords and all the other companies coming on the market.

Joshua Aviv:
Yeah. I mean, it's really simple. I mean, we work with the OEMs and the way the market is going, everything's heading to CCS, right? So the North American standard, a lot of North American making models will be CCS. A lot of the European models will be CCS too. And so we're happy with the way the market's going, where eventually there'll be relatively one or two courts. And so it doesn't seem like it's a too big of a problem as of yet.

John Eichberger:
That's good, and eventually you get to work with the OEMs. That's one of their critical elements is. We need to think about the infrastructure from a holistic perspective. It sounded like you guys are doing that. It's what are the use case scenarios for the customer? What are the needs of the customer? How do you integrate with the OEMs? How do you integrate with local businesses and opportunities? And all those things have to come together for this to be successful. And I think we're in a situation now where we're transforming the transportation market and that collaboration of cooperation is going to be absolutely essential, and it's great to see you guys are doing that. I guess the only other question I have for you is, have you guys run into any regulatory issues with taking your unit out to the market and charging vehicles on the street? Have regulators raised any red flags for you? Has it been pretty easy to get into the market?

Joshua Aviv:
No real regulation issues as of yet, right? I mean, we follow every safety guideline there is. We get all of our units tested. We follow all city rules and regulations when it comes to delivering range in where we operate. So, so far it's been pretty good, smooth sailing. And I think that's the key, right? We're not trying to disrupt any regulations that are there we're simply abiding by what's in front of us.

John Eichberger:
I love innovation. And I think what you guys have put together is fantastic. If people want to know more about SparkCharge or they want to become a customer or find a ways to collaborate with you guys, what's the best way for them to reach out to you?

Joshua Aviv:
Absolutely. Yeah. The best way is to just go to our website. We've got a lot of information on there. Feel free to reach out. You can get in touch with just about anybody in the company, through our website.

John Eichberger:
Josh, thank you so much for joining Carpool Chats, I love what you guys are doing. I think the diversity of charging opportunities are being developed is fascinating. And I think it really builds well for the future of the market. Making sure customers have the energy they need. Whether they're driving a combustion engine or an electric vehicle, they need to make sure they have the energy and you guys are serving a need that I think is going to grow. Especially as the EV driver demographics are instituted and normalized with the rest of the population. Start getting more apartment dwellers, more regular rank and file consumers rather than those who have higher incomes and their own houses and stuff. You start getting into that, the mass adoption profile, their needs are going to be different. And I think you guys are providing us service is really going to help them out there. So congratulations on SparkCharge, I'm really excited to see where you guys are heading.

Joshua Aviv:
Thank you. I appreciate it. And thank you guys so much for having us. I appreciate the time you guys take to sit here and talk and learn about what we're doing and we can't wait to really reveal to the world all that we're working on here pretty soon.

John Eichberger:
Now we're going to keep an eye on it. And as you guys grow, maybe we'll have you back. So Josh, thanks again for joining us and for all you guys out there, thank you for tuning into Carpool Chats. We'll talk to you next time.