It costs something like $7.50 to charge your electric vehicle at a standard public charging station, but at Volta’s terminals the price is free. The California charging startup is giving away power free of charge.
How? By making stations visible and truly public, so it can sell advertising and sponsorship. It now has 110 sites, with more planned now that it’s raised $7.5 million in new venture funding.
CEO Scott Mercer argues that charging people to charge doesn’t make sense. As has been well-documented, the several operators that exist today are struggling to make money. Mercer compares his free-to-use model to an internet business that tries to build up its network by giving something away. The aim is to scale quickly, reaching attractive locations with plenty of footfall. So far, that’s mainly shopping malls and centers. Volta has relationships with seven of the top 10 national real estate companies, plus store chains like Macy’s and Whole Foods Market. The attraction for Volta’s partners is they pay nothing to provide charging facilities. The startup takes care of installation, service, and maintenance.
Volta began life when Mercer moved to Hawaii from his home in Colorado, seeking “a small test market.” The company grew, scored seed funding, and branched out to the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles metropolitan area, San Diego, and Phoenix. With its new funding, it plans to expand in the areas it’s currently in first.
Mercer says a secondary benefit of an ad-supported model is that it draws attention to charging. His stations have to be in places where people are likely to see them. “We want to get people excited about having electric cars,” he says.