Daimler Accelerates Push Into Electric Cars as It Teams Up With ChargePoint

Daimler becomes latest auto maker to develop electric vehicles and prepare continentwide charging networks

The Wall Street Journal
William Boston

March 2, 2017

ChargePoint car charger

An electric car is connected for power at the Motor Show 2016 in Essen, Germany. German auto maker Daimler is preparing for a significant uplift in demand for battery-driven cars. PHOTO: MARTIN MEISSNER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

BERLIN— Daimler AG is extending its push into electric vehicles as the lead investor in an $82 million financing round for the European expansion plans of ChargePoint, the leading charging network for electric vehicles, ahead of an expected surge in demand for battery-driven cars in Europe.

ChargePoint and Daimler said Thursday the German auto maker is the lead investor in its latest $82 million financing round. It added it has so far raised $255 million.

The move comes as European auto makers prepare a significant push to develop electric vehicles and prepare continentwide charging networks to accommodate an expected surge in battery-driven cars on European roads.

Automotive companies and industry experts predict that electric vehicles could account for about 25% of new car sales by 2030, up from less than 2% now, encouraging big European auto makers such as Daimler, BMW AG, and Volkswagen AG to invest in charging infrastructure.

Pasquale Romano, Chief Executive of Campbell, Calif.-based ChargePoint, said the company has already begun exploring European markets and is building up staff in what are expected to be the biggest markets for electric vehicles: the Nordic countries, Germany, the U.K., France and the Netherlands.

“The first step is to follow exactly where the cars are and to align ourselves with governmental policies,” Mr. Romano said in an interview.

The companies didn't disclose how large Daimler’s share was of the first closing of the current financing round for the Silicon Valley startup. Daimler is taking the lead, but other investors are also involved. A second closing, which hasn't yet been announced, will boost total financing in the current round to slightly more than $100 million, Mr. Romano said.

Following the financing round, Daimler executive Axel Harries will join the board of ChargePoint. Mr. Harries is a senior executive overseeing Daimler’s development of technologies for Daimler’s upcoming EQ brand, which will unite services for self-driving and electric cars connected to the internet.

Over the past nine years, ChargePoint has emerged as the leading provider of charging services for electric vehicles in the U.S. The company essentially links businesses-based charging stations, home charging stations and drivers to its cloud-based network via a software app.

ChargePoint’s network has roughly 33,000 chargers, mostly in the U.S., but it rarely owns the stations. Instead, it links chargers to a virtual network and provides services such as billing.

“For most of our charging networks, we look a lot more like Airbnb,” than a conventional filling station, said Mr. Romano, referring to the room-sharing service that now competes with conventional hotels.

It is not clear who ChargePoint’s other partners in Europe are. In the U.S., the company recently teamed up with BMW AG and Volkswagen AG to build a supercharger network.

In Europe, Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and Ford Motor Co. have joined forces to build a supercharger network along Europe’s major highways that could later include ChargePoint, analysts said.

Mr. Romano declined to say whether ChargePoint would collaborate on the planned European supercharger network.

Existing investors participating the financing round included BMW i Ventures as well as Braemar Energy Ventures, Linse Capital and Rho Capital Partners.