Reliability Is Key to Capturing EVSE Market Share

China-based Autel Energy takes a customer-centric approach as a fast-growing supplier of EV charging stations.

Autel Energy’s charging stations at the 2023 Chicago auto show kept the various EV demo rides juiced during the show. (Autel Energy)

Pick a percentage: 10%, 20%, 30%. The number of public EV charging stations that are out of service at any given time typically is a double-digit percentage, according to surveys. For a new supplier of EVSEs (electric vehicle supply equipment), product uptime becomes the game-changer.

“There’s been so much consternation with the current supply base. So, coming in as a new player, you have to create a level of trust and credibility and we’re doing that pretty quickly,” John Thomas, COO of Autel Energy, said in a recent interview with SAE Media.

Autel Energy, based in Shenzhen, China, has spent the last 20-plus years as a leading provider of automotive diagnostic tools and equipment. “Most of the companies doing EV charging are software and cloud-connectivity companies,” Thomas explained. “We’re unusual for this space. We understand how to interact with a vehicle and how to read a CAN bus,” he said.

On the EV charging front, Autel employs 2,000 globally, with 60% of the workforce in R&D. “We’re investing 21 percent of our revenue in R&D,” Thomas said, “We have to invest in technology to be fast to the market and get ahead of the competition.” Autel Energy currently holds 126 patents relating to its EV chargers.

Autel’s broad portfolio of charging products includes Level 2 AC home and commercial chargers, a bi-directional home charger, various Level 3 DC fast chargers, a DC fast 4K charger and 720-kW high-power DC unit. Several Autel customers deploy Autel-branded chargers. Some choose to “white label” the equipment, keeping the brand name invisible to their customers. Thomas noted that Autel also is co-branding its chargers with some customers’ brands.

Autel Energy engineers write all the software code for the EV charger portfolio, and the company designs, engineers and manufactures all of its charging stations. It also makes its own control boards and has its own SMT (surface mount technology) lines, which most companies typically outsource, Thomas claimed.

Autel DC chargers are manufactured in China, while AC chargers are produced in Vietnam. Company executives currently are in discussions to add a U.S. plant later in 2023 for building both DC and AC chargers. “We have to have a U.S. footprint,” Thomas stated. “With all of the supply-chain challenges that we experienced with Covid, I think everybody has realized that if we don’t on-shore more product, it impacts the ability to complete the product process.”

New DC MaxiCharger

In late 2021, Autel Energy’s EV charging stations began appearing in Germany, Italy, France and other European countries. “We have something going in every week. We’re at hundreds of public charging units right now in Europe. By the end of 2023, we expect to have 1,000 units. For home charging, we have about 20,000 throughout Europe,” Thomas said. The U.S. market, which started receiving Autel products in late 2022, has about 10,000 home EVSEs.

A newly released Autel EVSE, the MaxiCharger DC Compact, is a portable 40-kW DC charger that plugs into a wall outlet. Aimed at vehicle service-department customers, the mobile unit can be rolled around a vehicle.

“We’re thinking not only about the charging event and how easy it is to use, but we’re also thinking about the product and how reliable it is,” Thomas offered. “And we’re thinking about the after-event, so if something does go wrong, it can be up and running as fast as possible.”