Mercedes-Benz sent a ripple of excitement shooting through the internet last week when it announced plans for a rapid transition into the electric vehicle (EV) field. Part of the package is an ambitious ramping-up of the automaker’s charging station network, through a partnership with the legacy oil and gas firm Shell, and that’s where things get interesting.
The U.S. startup Tesla burst ahead of the electric vehicle pack early on, with an exclusively electric lineup and its own network of charging stations. Meanwhile, conventional automakers like Germany’s Mercedes-Benz (owned by Daimler AG) have been engaged in a grindingly slow pivot to electrification while keeping their gas and diesel operations afloat.
The pace of electrification has picked up considerably in the past year, but that can be a two-edged sword. With a sudden flood of EV drivers heading for the road, competition to book space at public charging stations could result in long wait times, anxious drivers and depleted batteries.
In addition, demand for charging during peak electricity use hours could weaken the stability and reliability of local grids.
Like other automakers, Mercedes-Benz is solving part of the issue by introducing new battery technology that charges more quickly and goes farther on a single charge.
Recharge may come as a surprise to those familiar with Shell’s deep roots in the oil and gas business. However, in recent years Shell has made a series of significant moves into electrification. They includes investments in wind power, solar power and hydrogen fuel stations. The company is also beginning to embrace the green hydrogen market.
Shell launched the Recharge network in California with an eye on accelerating EV adoption in that state.
As a public charging network, Recharge involves commercial, retail, public and government locations, and multi-family residential buildings.
To help build grid stability into the system, Shell also added a new smart-charging feature called RechargePlus.
The Plus feature encourages EV drivers to charge their batteries during times that benefit local grid operations. That would generally be at night and other periods of low demand, when electricity rates are also lower. The driver can save money on EV charging and contribute to a more reliable grid at the same time.
As would be expected for a luxury brand, Mercedes-Benz is also planning to add notes of exclusivity and convenience into the simple act of charging an electric vehicle battery.
One aspect of that plan is a hint that Mercedes-Benz drivers will get extra consideration for booking a charging station.
“Customers will get enhanced access to Shell's Recharge network consisting of over 30,000 charge points by 2025 in Europe, China, and North America – including over 10,000 high-power chargers globally,” Mercedes-Benz explained.
Mercedes-Benz is also leveraging its existing network of more than 530,000 charging stations worldwide. Later this year, the company will introduce its new “Plug & Charge” service, which will eliminate the authentication and payment steps normally needed to use a charging station.
Future plans also include luxury-style pampering.
“Mercedes-Benz is also planning to launch several premium-charging sites in Europe, which will offer a bespoke charging experience with top-notch facilities,” the company explains.
Shell has a long way to go in order to undo the damage of years past. However, the new partnership with Mercedes-Benz demonstrates how the global auto industry can stimulate and accelerate sustainable investment by fossil energy stakeholders.
Manufacturers in other sectors can also play a role. Lego, for example, has embarked on the technologically challenging journey of transitioning to recycled plastic and other more sustainable sources for its iconic bricks. That aim could end up dovetailing with Shell’s plastic recycling R&D work.
In an interesting twist, back in 2014 Lego was targeted by Greenpeace for including a Shell-branded gas station within its long roster of specialty kits. Lego pledged to remove the kit, which was somewhat ironic considering Lego’s longstanding reliance on fossil resources to make its bricks.
For that matter, the pledge did not involve breaking Lego’s existing contract with Shell, which apparently is still in force. Shell-branded Lego gas station kits for sale can still be found online at Walmart, for example.
Shell has many other brand affiliations in its lineup, some of which have expired in recent years. That includes Shell and Mercedes-Benz gasoline tanker truck toys.
Perhaps the time is right for the two companies to partner with Lego on a Shell-branded electric vehicle charging station kit featuring the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz all-electric Vision EQXX, scheduled to be premiered next year.
The EQXX has stirred up quite a buzz in the automotive world for its claim to a range of more than 621 miles per charge. That should help relieve pressure on public charging station demand, and Mercedes-Benz is already working on plans to adapt the Vision EQXX architecture in other new electric vehicles.
Image credit: Mercedes-Benz USA corporate site
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.