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Where you and I might see a vacant parking spot, Pasquale Romano sees opportunity. Romano is the chief executive officer of ChargePoint, a California-based company that runs one of the world’s largest electric-vehicle charging networks, having installed over 130,000 charging stations throughout North America and Europe. In Romano’s business, each parking spot is a potential home for a charger. For every car in the U.S. there are eight parking spots, which gives ChargePoint a total addressable market of 2 billion locations.
Even before the election of President Biden, which is likely to greatly speed the adaptation of electric vehicles in this country, interest in EVs was higher than ever, Romano insists. He says the primary drag on adaptation thus far is the limited number of makes and models of EVs being produced by the car industry. Until there is a broad range of models in all shapes, sizes, colors and prices, consumers will be slow to convert. Although the pace of adoption is likely to accelerate, ChargePoint expects it to take about 20 years to replace the 250 million cars and light trucks currently on the roads with electric vehicles.
So where do the chargers go? Juicing your car is a different ritual than filling up at the pump. It’s more akin to juicing your phone. And since cars sit idle 96% of the time, much of that time parked at work or in a garage, that is largely where chargers need to be.
The electric-vehicle space is extremely hot now, and ChargePoint is going public through a deal with a special-purpose acquisition company, SPAC, raising about $480 million.
Romano, who is on his third Tesla, recently joined TIME for a video conversation on why big, ongoing subsidies for EVs are a bad idea, why charging stations are the hot new employee benefit and why he’s suspicious of statistics.
(This interview with ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
You are about to go public through a merger with a SPAC, a process that’s sweeping Wall Street.
It’s a capital-raising event. I liken these companies to some symbiotic form of plant life that looks to basically attach to a company and then turn it into a public company. (The interview took place Feb. 19; the company’s stock is expected to start trading on the NYSE on March 1.)
What’s it like to be laboring in a field for years and then see interest suddenly, dramatically pick up?
The making of every private startup company is to see something before other people do. The problem is, you’ve seen it before other people do, so you’re very lonely.
There was a lot of naysaying for a long time. When you’re not a technologist, and you’re not in the middle of something, and there are legacy car companies that say, “That’s not going to happen for a long time, the pricing isn’t there, battery technologies not there …” It confuses people.
Is moving to all-electric harder or easier than people think?
The hardest thing to put in place is with vehicle make and models. Cars are like fashion items, an extension of your personal brand, so you need a lot of makes and models. That’s the biggest impediment.
How far away are we from all-electric?
It’s probably somewhere between 20 years on the inside, if everything goes perfectly, to 30 years on the outside to get to 100%. Companies have to convert a tremendous amount of supply chain over to electric. But we’re gonna put a big dent in this thing over the next decade. The only way it goes faster is a massive, unaffordable federal program, a cash subsidy for your gas guzzlers.
And you’re not counting on that as part of the business plan?
My philosophy on policy, and I’ve spent a lot of time with our policy team, is that policy, to be constructive, needs to create sustainable businesses that don’t require a permanent subsidy. So I don’t think we should do anything unnatural. We should make great cars, keep dropping the price point, so people get behind them and say, “How did I not buy one of these before?” I don’t get preachy.
There is a new report out from some economists who broke down California data that said that people were using electric vehicles for much shorter trips than they anticipated, and they worried that because of that, it might have an impact on the replacement dynamic you were talking about.
When I read statistics on things I’m familiar with, I see holes in the argument, which makes my reading of any statistics on things I don’t understand very suspect. You must know someone with a Tesla. Do they ever call you and say, “I can’t really drive it everywhere. I drive it around town, but I’m not taking it out on the road”? Do you ever hear anyone say that?
So charging stations for employees are the hot new employee benefit? You have over half the Fortune 50 as customers.
It costs about the same amount of money per day to give your employees free power as to give them coffee, so you’re actually giving them a raise. If you look at the ranking of employee benefits, the gym and the subsidized cafeteria are way more expensive. Charging infrastructure and coffees are down at the bottom of the list.
Give me your quick impression of other players in the EV universe.
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