By on October 14, 2019

There are plenty of ways to get free gasoline. Unfortunately, most require you to become uncomfortably intimate with advertising to reap any rewards. Converting your vehicle into a mobile billboard for a brand is a good way to convince said brand to foot your monthly gas bill. But you can also sit through hours of digital surveys or ads to encourage companies to part with fuel cards. Either way, it’s free go juice — with a catch.

Volta Industries is attempting to duplicate this model for EV charging, without the need for middle men. The company will allot a certain amount of electric charge time to customers willing to interact with “embedded advertisements” occupying high-end retail zones. While the company has promoted this business model for several years, it only entered our peripheral vision in recent months after securing investments and solidifying its plans.

Despite the phrase “if you’re getting something for free, you are the product” being around since at least the 1970s, it’s infinitely applicable here. 

Locations are scheduled to begin popping up this month in Connecticut before Volta turns its focus targeting other U.S. cities. By offering to install and maintain the charging networks of premium retail locations for free, Volta would like to convince companies to offer relevant information and incentives to EV drivers.

Individuals would be able to browse targeted ads for items available inside the store while retailers get to proclaim themselves friends of those people attaching themselves to something green.

Currently, Volta only offers free EV charging on a limited basis. After 30 minutes, the company will begin billing you for the electricity going into your car — as it’s doubtful you’ll spend the full half-hour glued to the station’s integrated screen. But its goal is to maximize the amount of free charging as much as possible by partnering with advertisers — allowing the sites to continue emitting ads when not in use by an automobile.

Other goals include Volta further tailoring its boards to encourage EV adoption and environmentalism in a given area. Of course, it’s really all about the brands, with the company attributing every free mile furnished to the names you’ll see displayed on its screens. Even the 30 minute (per visit) free charging limit is cleverly designed to give customers enough of an incentive to use the chargers with time leftover to do some shopping.

Chargers will be 100- and 50-kW units, with Volta utilizing data modeling and customer behavior tracking to determine the optimal ratio for each location. We also imagine this info will be sold back to advertisers and likely kept on hand to ensure ads can be appropriately targeted. All a customer needs is an EV and the Volta app to participate.

Each round of complementary charging only costs the company a few bucks, with the brunt of the investment going into building and maintaining these stations. Volta claims the cost will be offset by attracting upscale customers to specific locales and hosting them for longer periods of time while sponsoring brands leverage the stations’ presence to generate a meaningful uplift in sales. It doesn’t do much to break the stereotype that EV drivers tend to be high earners, however. Don’t expect to see Volta Charging at the Dollar General, but maybe it’ll make some businesses more money and get people out of their homes.

As previously stated, the first stations will show up in Norwalk, Connecticut in the coming weeks. Volta plans to install 150 stations in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and Chicago over the next 12 months.

[Images: Volta]

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14 Comments on “‘Free’ EV Charging Still Costs Something...”

  • avatar

    Let a thousand EV chargers bloom. Once there is a sufficient volume of EVs, we’ll get to see the free market come up with all sorts of ideas for how to charge them.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Am I getting a discount while the gas pump screen blares ads at me? Given the higher cost for gasoline vs driving electric, I’d expect a greater discount.

  • avatar

    I think this is being done “because the technology exists” rather than because it is expected to be particularly effective. Still I suspect that putting an video ad on an EV charger is probably as cheap as or cheaper than a Facebook ad, and probably just as effective in terms of potential views. One argument in favor is that your ads are showing to a known affluent demographic whom brands can target. I would make sure that there’s a premium charged to have your ad shown in the first minute of hook-up; the odds of being viewed would decrease geometrically in each subsequent minute.

    Advertisers are frantically searching for ways to reach consumers: nobody reads magazines or newspapers any more; everyone fast forwards through TV commercials; and almost everyone uses an ad blocker for most websites. This worth a try if the cost is low enough for advertisers.

  • avatar

    So a 100 kW charger for 30 minutes is 50kWh. Doesn’t that cost like $7? Watching 30 minutes of ads is worth that to people? Especially people who can afford new EVs?

    I guess when the word ‘free’ is tossed around people lose their minds. Free things are not always a good deal.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think it’s aimed specifically at the EV drivers. It’s more for anyone walking past what essentially is a small billboard.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      A more pertinent question is this: What EV driver needs 50 kWh in such a venue? If I ever need such a fill, I’ll be near the highway (passing through), not shopping. Otherwise, I’d fill up at home.

      Also, as mcs said, this isn’t for the drivers. During the few quick-fills I’ve done, I sat in the car and worked on my phone. Nobody stands there like they’re filling it with gas.

  • avatar

    Not only is “free’ not without some level of encumbrance, free when compared to home electric rates isn’t such a great savings anyway.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Environmentalism is all about money?! Who knew?

  • avatar

    Something just struck me. What they are going to do when you’re charging at a public place is access the car’s computer to harvest your data and bury it in a EULA somewhere (or in the future the judge will rule because you used their
    hookup they can enforce a EULA etc).

    Brave New World.

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