At Its El Segundo Innovation Lab, EVgo Tries to Predict the Future of Car Charging

Zac Estrada

Zac Estrada is a reporter covering transportation, technology and policy. A former reporter for The Verge and Jalopnik, his work has also appeared in Automobile Magazine, Autoweek, Pacific Standard, Boston.com and BLAC Detroit. A native of Southern California, he is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. You can find him on Twitter at @zacestrada.

The fastest electric car charging stations can replenish a battery from empty in about an hour. As carmakers from Volvo to Tesla race to make charges speedier and more powerful, the next 10 years mean added pressure on charging stations, from the plugs in homes to the stands at supermarkets.

But it's a delicate dance for the companies responsible for those chargers. Overheating and degradation has plagued some models over the last decade, and even Tesla has reduced the charging speed on some of its cars based on battery health and how often fast charging was used.

"The majority can't take more than a 50 kW per hour charging, and the charge rate doesn't stay at that and declines even more as the battery heats up," said Ivo Steklac, chief operations and technology officer of EVgo, one of the predominant electric vehicle charging companies in the U.S. "In order to manage this intelligently, we didn't think it was wise to dedicate this level of charger to vehicles when the majority of them can't take it."

With EV technology evolving at such a rapid clip, EVgo is grappling to make sure its charging stations are outfitted to handle the newest and most powerful electric cars. The company has been pouring resources into figuring out not only where and how many chargers should be placed across the country, but also issues that users might face when pulling up to a station to get some juice for their car. In April it opened a 4,000 square-foot Innovation Lab in El Segundo.

Engineers there are trying to work out a number of hardware, software and logistics problems — some of which exist now, and some that might become apparent later, as batteries get bigger and vehicles can charge more quickly to eventually replace the lines at gas stations.

EVgo, which went public July 2 after an SPAC merger with Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition Corp. now has more than 800 chargers dotted across the U.S. as the Biden administration tries to jumpstart an electric vehicle revolution. But the market share remains small as Americans groan about range and access to car chargers.

"We created this lab to do a number of tests, from electric to physical and mechanical," said Steklac. "EV manufacturers are placing their charging ports in all sorts of places on the cars so they can reduce the length of wiring for these very high-powered cables."

It follows, then, that one of EVgo's tests at the lab includes a cable reach analysis to figure out not only an acceptable length for a charging cable, but also a manageable weight for not only the average driver, but shorter people or those with disabilities. EVgo wants to banish problems like pulling up to a gas pump when the car's fuel door is on the opposite side.

EVgo's lab engineers are also busy considering EV charging times. When the company was first installing chargers a decade ago, a charging rate of 50 kilowatts per hour was considered more than sufficient for drivers. Today's Tesla's Superchargers have a 120 kWh rate, while Volkswagen-owned Electrify America is building stations with 350 kWh-capable chargers. But only a few EVs on sale now can handle that charge rate, so Steklac said its chargers have to allow for significant disparities between vehicles.

Similarly, EVgo is looking at how extensive fast charging affects the longevity of an EV's battery pack.

"The majority (of models) can't take more than a 50 kW per hour charging, and the charge rate doesn't stay at that and declines even more as the battery heats up," Steklac said. "In order to manage this intelligently, we didn't think it was wise to dedicate this level of charger to vehicles when the majority of them can't take it."

Steklac said designing the next generation of chargers to go with the next generation of electric vehicles is becoming important as the market becomes less of a niche. EVgo's CEO Cathy Zoi said during the company's Wall Street debut that the EV market in the United States is estimated to grow from just over 1% share of the passenger car segment in 2020 to more than 10% by 2030, just before state mandates like California's go into effect for new vehicle sales.

Even without the Biden administration's 500,000 EV charger pledge, Steklac believes there needs to be 50,000 stations just to support the existing market. And that doesn't even include commercial vehicles, ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft or buses and postal delivery vans that are high on the White House's list to electrify.

EVgo's automaker partnerships currently extend to General Motors and Nissan, both of which sell EVs in the U.S., and are about to introduce new, longer-range models. The charging company touts its network as the largest for fast chargers in the country, with 800 stations across 34 states.

In California, Steklac said electric car hotbeds Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay areas are well-served, but acknowledges there are gaps in the infrastructure. He said the innovation lab uses an algorithm and purchase data to determine where EV owners live to determine where to put new charging stations.

Shopping and entertainment centers are EVgo's target for fast charging hubs right now. Kroger and Whole Foods are among its grocery store partners, too.

"The average American goes to the grocery store twice a week and spends 30 to 45 minutes there," Steklac said. "We target those, we target pharmacies, fast casual restaurants where you spend an hour or less. These include malls and parking garages, particularly in urban areas."

Steklac said the company is also talking with regional transit agencies, as well as Amtrak where there are EVgo charging stations at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, because he said the mentality is still to "partner with anyone and everyone" in this still-early EV era.

Because while automakers and analysts expect home stations to be the way most EV owners will charge their vehicles in the long term, Steklac said that won't be the solution for every household and won't allow for the electrification of vehicles as quickly as lawmakers want. That's why the teams at the Innovation Lab have plenty of work to do over the next decade.

"Public charging is there to augment if you have home charging, but it's there to be a reliable source if you don't," Steklac said.

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How LA Beverage Startups Are Using NFTs to Build Their Brands

Perrin Davidson
Perrin Davidson is the publisher of⁣ LAeats, an L.A.-based food community covering the food industry, food entertainment and food tech.
Image courtesy of Bored Breakfast Club

While you can’t drink an NFT, that isn’t stopping some beverage startups from looking to capitalize on the blockchain-enabled craze.

Non-fungible tokens have gained traction in the art world, where artists and creators are using the digital assets to create closer connections with fans and collectors.

The idea of building a creative community around a product is not unfamiliar to beverage brands. After all, generations of beverage aficionados gave us the concept of the bar, the tea house and the coffee joint.

As brands increasingly take to the digital world to increase their exposure, many beverage companies are now experimenting with NFT technology to build interest around their products. Budweiser, for instance, recently signed a deal to mint collectible tokens, as have Bacardi, Fountain Hard Seltzer and the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Three new L.A.-based beverage brands–Bored Breakfast Club, Yerb and Leisure Project–are also using the blockchain to build their companies and engage with customers in different ways. Each is using NFTs to kickstart their direct-to-consumer businesses and build interest in their brands.

The goal is to use the transparency and equity inherent in blockchain technology to attract early adopters—giving them an opportunity to test ideas and products before they’re finalized—and encourage them to invest in a community built around their drinks.

Time will tell if each brand can deliver on that promise.

Bored Breakfast Club Bored Breakfast Club's NFT tokens feature the Bored Ape characters and serve as a subscription membership.

Bored Breakfast Club

One L.A.-based effort, Bored Breakfast Club, has looked to leverage the popularity of Bored Ape collectible NFTs to help jump start a new coffee subscription service.

Frogtown-based marketing agency Kley is leading the effort to use Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) intellectual property to build direct-to-consumer coffee subscription memberships that are sold as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. The tokens themselves feature a breakfast scene that include BAYC and MAYC characters, and each functions as a coffee subscription membership.

BAYC and MAYC are considered two of the most popular and expensive NFT collections, according to OpenSea, a secondary NFT marketplace that also tracks their value. BYAC NFTs are valued at approximately 74.69 ETH ($244,041) on the platform.

Kley co-founder Brad Klemmer said the idea was to parlay the success of the Bored Apes brand into a new direct-to-consumer offering. Owners of the NFTs get four free coffee shipments and the possibility of more, if the project is a success.

Klemmer said the idea is to build a regular clientele for his coffee brand by shipping it directly to consumers, rather than relying on them to go to a coffee shop or grocery store. “You need a brand and community that puts their product on [consumers’] doorstep on a weekly basis,” he said.

Bored Breakfast Club launched the project on Jan. 10, offering 5,000 NFTs for .08 ETH (approx. $250) each, and promising token holders they would receive a 12-ounce bag of a different variety of coffee for each of four NFT sales thresholds the company surpassed. The NFTs have since sold out, meaning that the project will ship four bags of coffee to each token holder by the end of the month. The company has also created a “community coffee wallet” that could entitle token holders to still more coffee.

Bored Breakfast Club A graphic explains Bored Breakfast Club's "wallet" concept.

That’s because the “wallet“ collects funds from a 5% royalty on its NFTs that are bought and sold on the secondary market. Once it collects enough funds, the company will send additional blends to its 5,000 token holders. (Klemmer said they’re waiting to get data from their initial shipments to determine how much it will cost to ship additional bags). That communal “wallet“ will also pay to produce extra bags of coffee and Bored Breakfast Club merchandise to sell to non-NFT holders.

Klemmer said he sees the NFT offerings as a “fun way to buy coffee.” Also, there were “similarities around NFT communities engaging with each other and what the DTC subscription model is trying to be.”

Bored Breakfast Club works with Yes Plz Coffee, which sources, roasts, packages and delivers the coffee to NFT holders.

Yerb yerba mate drink

Yerb

Yerb was born out of entrepreneur Brett Fink's habit of drinking yerba mate with friends, many of them creatives who were looking for a coffee alternative. The traditional South American drink is said to provide a calmer caffeine-imbibing experience than coffee.

Like Bored Breakfast Club, Fink is hoping to use NFTs to drum up interest in his business early on. But instead of relying on the popularity of a particular NFT brand, Fink sees an opportunity to use the blockchain to heighten awareness of his own brand and, hopefully, develop buy-in for its first product.

Fink, who has past experience building and growing consumer-packaged good (CPG) brands, including cannabis brands, thinks NFTs can help build a creative community around a product.

“If you believe what we believe, and want to create a product for the creative process, you can benefit from it, as there is a massive untapped opportunity in NFT and CPG projects,” Fink said. “You need to get people to believe what you believe, then have them be involved and take ownership of that product.”

Yerb’s first yerba mate drink will be bottled in 12-ounce cans but sold through NFTs that cost 0.039 ETH (approx. $77 USD). The company started offering the tokens in February of last year; each entitles the holder to six cans of Yerb’s first release, as well as an additional six-pack of cans every year that they hold the NFT. Yerb is hoping that the offer will help it identify early adopters who will buy-in to the brand as repeat customers.

Non-NFT holders will be able to purchase the drinks once token holders receive the first shipment. Yerb is targeting April 2022 for that release after hitting supply chain issues last year.

Leisure Project

Leisure Project

Venice-based Leisure Project is taking a similar approach to Yerb by targeting creatives with an emphasis on community development.

The startup, which bills itself as “the world’s first co-created beverage brand,” hopes to market a kind of natural Gatorade for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators.

Leisure Project was started by former NCAA Division I athletes and brothers Steve Michaelsen, who works at Nike LA, and Alex Michaelsen, who works at TikTok marketing agency GO Ventures in Beverly Hills. The brothers, who have been bootstrapping the project themselves, have spent almost two years creating the brand’s first three flavors.

In December, the Michaelsens announced plans to experiment with minting NFTs that would provide token holders with the first run of their beverages, cheaper pricing on additional flavors and the opportunity to pitch new products. Leisure Project has been sampling its drinks at local NFT events to drum up publicity.

Down the line, the company hopes to use the blockchain to give token holders access to a yet-to-be-defined “creator database” of potential partners and grants.

Leisure Project is in its early stages, but its founders hope establishing buy-in through NFTs and social platforms like Discord will help build an authentic community for their brand, and give them a potentially vital advantage over more-established competitors. “Big brands can’t go backwards and do something community-orientated after the fact,” Steve Michaelson said.

Office Hours: JibJab CEO Paul Hanges on Creating Viral Joy

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 75 companies and is incubating several more.

Image courtesy of JibJab

Even if people don't know the brand by name, JibJab CEO Paul Hanges is happy to see the company's greeting cards resonate and its mission to make people laugh continue to thrive.

On this episode of Office Hours, Hanges talks about JibJab, a pioneer of internet comedy that has evolved into a subscription platform for exchanging ecards, as well as a studio that produces video shorts and commercials for clients including Sony, Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, NBC in Disney. JibJab was acquired by Catapult Capital in 2019.

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Santa Monica EV Infrastructure Firm InCharge Sold to Swiss Tech Giant ABB

Pat Maio
Pat Maio has held various reporting and editorial management positions over the past 25 years, having specialized in business and government reporting. He has held reporting jobs with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County Register, Dow Jones News and other newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of InCharge Energy

Santa Monica-based fleet electrification company InCharge Energy has sold a majority stake in its business to Swiss robotics giant ABB, the companies announced Thursday.

The deal gives ABB a 60% controlling interest in InCharge, which builds electric vehicle charging systems for commercial fleet operators including ride-share operators, school districts and municipalities. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The Swiss firm initially acquired a 10% stake in the startup through its Series A funding round in 2020, which ABB led alongside Macquarie Capital.

While InCharge will be folded into ABB’s e-mobility division, it will maintain its management team, including co-founders Cameron Funk and Terry O’Day, as well as its “tech neutrality,” the company said in a press release.

Founded in 2018, InCharge manages fleet electrification projects for commercial customers including truck rental company Ryder, truck and bus manufacturer Navistar and GM BrightDrop, which is developing electric-powered vans for commercial delivery firms. BrightDrop is part of GM’s larger initiative to have an all-electric lineup of vehicles by 2035; its first customer is FedEx, which placed an initial order for 500 EV600 vehicles.

InCharge currently employs around 50 people. As part of its plans to expand nationally, the Santa Monica startup has a four-year goal to hire hundreds of field technicians to support and service its charging systems across the country.

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