GE’s long awaited WattStation electric vehicle charging stations will rely on PayPal as the exclusive payment provider, the two companies told GigaOM. PayPal will be embedded in the WattStation Connect mobile app, available now for iOS and Android, and will also soon power an RFID payment card.
In April, GE launched WattStation and WattStation Connect, its networked platform that allows users to manage and monitor the charging of their electric cars. But the company didn’t outline exactly how users will pay to charge up their electric cars. With the new partnership, GE will look to tap PayPal’s existing user base of more than 100 million users and its experience in handling online and mobile payments.
WattStation Connect app users will be able to find nearby WattStations through the app, get directions and check the availability of the station. To pay, they will scan a QR code on the machine to identify the WattStation and pull up pricing information. Then they’ll select how they want to pay, either by a flat rate or pay as you charge. Users will complete their transaction through PayPal and can begin charging.
GE is also close to releasing a WattStation RFID card that connects to a PayPal account. That will allow users to tap the card at the WattStation to initiate a transaction. If users don’t have a PayPal account, there will also be an option at the WattStation to call a GE representative to process a credit card transaction. But it doesn’t look like GE will be pushing that option to users.
Michael Mahan, product general manager of EV infrastructure for GE Energy’s Industrial Solutions business told me that GE chose PayPal because it fit into the user experience they were trying to create with Yves Behar-designed WattStation. He said the goal was to create a clean and connected environment and PayPal, with its cloud-based payment system fit the bill.
“It’s all about transacting through the app and creating a very connected experience,” Mahan said. “A lot of people can build a charger but what we did was build an end-to-end solution for owners of the infrastructure and drivers and PayPal was key to that.”
Mahan said that many EV owners are tech savvy to begin with and likely have PayPal accounts already.
For PayPal, it’s a nice win and demonstrates how the company is continuing to move beyond online payments. The last year has been a big one for PayPal as it has taken its payments business into big retail stores and small businesses. It’s also started looking at restaurants and earlier this began a pilot program in New England to enable payments at Cumberland Farms gas stations using the Cumberland’s mobile app.
Scott Dunlap, vice president of emerging opportunities at PayPal, told me the GE partnership falls in line with the opportunities PayPal wants to pursue as it extends its reach into the offline world.
“The way we pick what we want to do is we look for where we can simplify the payment experience and this opportunity fits in perfect,” Dunlap said.
WattStation’s impact will be limited at first. There are several thousand stations around the world, serving a small but growing number of electric vehicles. Mahan said 40,000 electric vehicles were shipped in the U.S. last year and 30,000 as of the end of May this year.
However, sales of electric cars in the U.S. have been slower than expected. According to Pike Research around 410,000 electric cars are expected to be sold between 2011 and 2015 in the U.S., and cumulative U.S. sales will not reach the 1 million mark until 2018. The Obama administration has called for 1 million electric vehicles on American roads by 2015.