Volvo’s Starbucks EV chargers could lower network costs

Marketing

To transform into an electric vehicle-only brand by early next decade, Volvo Cars must first address a significant customer pain point.

The Swedish automaker knows that American EV drivers want access to reliable, fast and convenient public charging — and also want to do more than sit in the car for the 30 minutes or so it takes.

More than a year ago, Volvo approached coffee shop chain Starbucks about developing a network of EV fast chargers to solve that.

It’s the latest experiment from an auto brand not shy about exploring new models — from vehicle subscriptions to an online-first retail strategy.

While Tesla is unique in building a proprietary fast charger network, the rest of the industry has chosen to lean on the burgeoning network of chargers installed by government, utilities and private companies. It’s an easier approach, but one that brings greater uncertainty and less control — which isn’t ideal in a market in which few customers have experience driving an EV.

Volvo is considering a middle path with its Starbucks hookup — helping build a charging network over which it has some control, but without shouldering the exorbitant cost of Tesla’s go-it-alone strategy.

As part of a pilot program, Volvo will install up to 60 fast chargers at 15 Starbucks stores across a 1,350-mile route from Denver to Seattle by year end. The chargers will be from ChargePoint but include Volvo branding.

Alex Tripi, Volvo Car USA head of electrification, described the Starbucks tie-up as an “amenities-first” approach to EV charging.

“We want to send drivers to where there are the amenities that they expect — a clean restroom, a snack, a well-lit parking lot,” Tripi told Automotive News. “Who better to do it with than Starbucks, given their footprint?”

The brands’ customer demographics are also similar.

Tripi said Volvo customers are younger, have growing families and take frequent road trips.

“We’ve heard that they over-index on coffee drinking,” he quipped. “Coffee is a big part of Swedish culture.”

Tripi declined to elaborate on the financial details of the charging program, but he said the collaboration is mutually beneficial for its partners. The chargers will bring foot traffic into Starbucks while helping Volvo sell more Americans on the ease of owning an EV.

As part of the pilot, Volvo drivers will receive complimentary charging, but the stations will be accessible to non-Volvo vehicles.

“We want to make sure it’s an elevated experience for Volvo drivers,” Tripi said.

Tripi said he sees “opportunities to expand” the charging network to more Starbucks stores in the future. But Volvo and its partners must first be convinced about the financial and logistical feasibility of building a charging network at scale.

“Installing fast chargers is an expensive investment,” Tripi said. “We need to ensure that there’s value in it.”

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