Ionna charging network, announced Friday, will be a U.S. version of an already successful European network called Ionity.
Seven automakers are involved in the plan, claiming they are set to have 30,000 charging stations up and running by decade's end.
Stations will use CCS or Tesla's North American Charging Standard and will work with the brands' own payment apps and route planning setups.
At least now we know what it's called—and who's running it. That aside, details remain thin on the new EV charging network called Ionna, other than the claim it will have 30,000 stations up and running by 2030, with the first ones to open this year. The company announced Friday its CEO would be Seth Cutler, previously president and COO of the charge network EVgo, and a chief infrastructure engineer at Electrify America before that.
The new network will locate both along highways and in urban areas. Some sites will be flagship stations with facilities that, according to a source with knowledge of the plans, may be akin to airline lounges—including bathrooms and refreshments. Ionna's charging cables will be usable by EVs that use either the Combined Charging System (CCS) or Tesla's North American Charging Standard (NACS) connector. Crucially, they will integrate with the carmakers’ apps and in-car route planning, accommodating either Plug and Charge or another form of integrated payment.
Ionna told Car and Driver that Cutler won't do interviews for three months, so he "has time to settle in, get the first big things done, and then have some great news to talk about." But it’s worth recapping how Ionna came into being.
Taking On Tesla's Supercharger Network
Last July, the news broke that seven global automakers—BMW, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, and Stellantis—would join forces to build a new North American EV charging network. Its goal was to make EV charging a more reliable, more pleasant experience than today’s networks offer—including the gold-standard Tesla Supercharger network, soon to open to non-Tesla EV drivers.
Tesla began to set up its Supercharger fast-charging network as early as 2012, reasoning (correctly) that buyers of its 200-plus-mile range EVs needed the ability to do long-distance trips. But that network was restricted to the four Tesla models sold in volume; no other EVs could use it. The ubiquitous, ultra-reliable Supercharger network likely contributed to sales of many Teslas.
But no other carmaker wanted to set up a charging network in North America. That contrasts with Europe, where in 2017 four makers—BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Ford, and VW Group (Hyundai/Kia joined later)—joined forces to create the pan-European network Ionity. Its first stations went live early in the first half of 2018, and they appear to work reliably. By early in 2025, it says, Ionity will have more than 5000 locations up and running in 20 countries.
In 2021 or 2022, a U.S. version of Ionity almost came together, largely at the behest of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The two German makers had seen what cooperation could accomplish in their home market and the dozen countries around it. Other makers weren’t convinced, citing the likely cost of hundreds of millions of dollars for each partner—and the effect that would have both on bottom-line profits and company stock prices. In the end, nothing happened.
Earlier, General Motors said it wouldn't fund DC fast-charging stations for its 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV—the first non-Tesla EV with more than 200 miles of range. Then VW Group committed to spend $2 billion to build a nationwide EV charging network, later named Electrify America, in part to atone for its Dieselgate sins. EV makers breathed a sigh of relief and assumed the charging problem was solved.
Unhappy with Electrify America
It wasn’t. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the powerful California Air Resources Board looking over its shoulder, Electrify America’s sole priority was to get the specified number of charging stations into the ground during each of the four 30-month tranches of the consent order. Any requirements for reliability or usability—to ensure an EV driver could reliably charge an EV at every EA station at any time—were weak, secondary, and viewed as unimportant.
By the middle of 2023, EV makers' anger at Electrify America had reached a boiling point. Meanwhile, BMW and Mercedes-Benz had doggedly kept the idea of a jointly created charging network on life support following the previous impasse. This time, it came together.
Two examples showing EV charging can be reliable and pleasant now exist: not only the Tesla Supercharger network in North America, but Ionity across Europe. Within Ionity, the partners seem to work cooperatively—and a drive to profitability above all else is not the first priority. More than one EV advocate has noted the new name can be read as "Ion NA," or Ion North America, underscoring its similarity to Ionity.
What will the new charging network look like? "The goal is to have six to 10 charging cables capable of 350 kW at each," said a source quoted in Charged EVs, "sheltered from the elements, in safe, well-lit locations." Most important, "We will set expectations clearly, for the right equipment, the right experience," from the very beginning. Reliable, functioning stations and a pleasant experience will be the main goals.
It’s notable that the day before the Ionna name broke, Electrify America released details and photos of its own flagship station—a fully indoor location on Harrison Street in San Francisco's South of Market (SoMa) district. Along with 20 chargers capable of up to 350 kilowatts, it includes two customer lounges, two restrooms (with baby changing stations), high-speed Wi-Fi, and onsite security.
Competition for reliability and amenities would be a welcome evolution in EV charging. As more than one EV driver has observed—perhaps after arriving at a prison-lit Walmart parking lot in the pouring rain to discover one or more non-working chargers—shouldn’t charging your electric vehicle be at least as reliable and pleasant as your average... gas station?
Today, it's not. Soon, Ionna suggests, it will be. The EV drivers of North America will wait and watch to see if that becomes reality.
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