For the second time this year, a startup is joining the ranks of companies helping to roll out the electric version of Daimler’s Smart Fortwo city car. The German automaker teamed up with Silicon Valley’s Tesla Motors in May for battery pack technology and this morning charge point maker Coulomb Technologies, based in Campbell, Calif., has been named the preferred supplier for charging stations for the electric Fortwo in the U.S.
For Coulomb, today’s deal means the company will have distribution for its smart charging systems (see our 10 electric car smart charging players to watch) through the national Smart dealer network. Getting in on the ground floor with a major automaker’s inaugural electric vehicle launch, slated for an initial rollout next year and mass production in 2012, represents a next step for Coulomb, boosting its profile among consumers and giving it some industry cred. According to Jerry Reich, CEO of Green Power Technology, which will oversee the Smart program and is currently exclusive distributor for Coulomb’s equipment in the Northeast, this is the first time a major auto manufacturer has chosen an infrastructure provider to go with its electric vehicle.
Reich told us that today’s deal is exclusive as far as the pilot launch of the electric Fortwo goes, and he’s hopeful that Coulomb will remain at least the “primary supplier” for the model when it launches commercially — helping Coulomb “enter into a new phase of our business,” the home charging market. Electric Fortwo buyers will have the option to sign up for a charging system installation at the dealership along with their vehicle purchase, and so Reich expects Coulomb’s uptick in sales to be directly correlated with sales of the car — “several hundred units to start with and thousands of vehicles over time.”
Coulomb’s latest agreement is not with Daimler itself, but rather with the exclusive U.S. distributor for the Smart Fortwo in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, which is part of the behemoth Penske Automotive Group. Previously, Coulomb has announced mostly agreements with local governments, including San Jose, Calif., and Amsterdam, Netherlands, as well as small installations for McDonald’s and other companies. Earlier this year, the startup raised $3.8 million in its first venture capital round from Berlin, Germany’s Estag Capital.
Coulomb’s business model involves selling subscriptions for access to the charge points, and also charging retail stores, home and building owners, and other entities to install the equipment. Those customers will get to keep single-use fees to cover electricity costs (with more to spare), while Coulomb collects revenue from subscribers with pre-paid charging plans.
Here’s where the smart part comes into the smart charging: Coulomb’s networked charging stations use software to coordinate vehicle charging and discharging according to the power grid’s needs and user preferences. Coulomb’s subscribers can get a lower rate for charging sessions if they agree to allow the utility to temporarily suspend their charging when needed. A company like smart grid firm GridPoint can connect the dots to let utilities dynamically shed portions of that load based on set parameters. Users are then alerted via text message when the car’s juiced up, and with a swipe of a key fob the driver is good to go — ready to drive off in a smart-charged Smart car.