Corporate gripes don’t usually end up on social media, because everyone’s got too much to lose; just the public perception of executives sniping accusations like “The Real Housewives” can be bad for business. But Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess has had enough of European EV charging network Ionity. Bloomberg reported that while driving an ID.3 Pro on vacation to Italy, Diess posted complaints about Ionity’s charger locations and facility condition in German to LinkedIn on Thursday.
He said he didn’t find an open charging station on the Brenner Pass connecting Italy and Austria, so he kept driving to Trento, Italy, the next Ionity location on his southward journey. When he got to Trento, his translated post said of the facility, “No bathroom, no coffee, an out-of-service/broken charging point, a sad state of affairs. It was anything but a premium charging experience, IONITY!”
For some context, there are four chargers at the Ionity site on the Brenner Pass. The station is outside a mall, though, so four stations will fill up quickly, especially during Europe’s summer holidays. The Trento station is 97 miles south of Brenner. The nearest station to the Brenner Pass would have required Diess to reverse course, either 57 miles northwest to Nassereith or 62 miles northeast to Angath, both in Austria. The Trento station also counts four chargers, but according to Diess, only three of them worked. The next nearest station is in Montecchio Maggiore, Italy, 86 miles away.
Ionity users have left comments like, “It’s cheaper to burn your empty car and buy a new and charged one,” and, “The EV charging company that makes ICE cars attractive again.”
The VW ID.3 Pro has a range from 264 to 364 miles on the European WLTP cycle depending on battery spec, so after Diess burned 97 miles getting to Trento — and would have eaten up a minimum of 154 miles based on the distance between the two nearest chargers on his north-south route — it’s possible he had to shack up in Trento no matter what.
What’s even loopier about this affair is that Volkswagen is one of the four initial investors in Ionity in 2016, with BMW, Daimler and Ford. Each automaker is reported to have put in 200 million euros ($235M U.S.), making Diess’ LinkedIn post a statement that begs this question: “What are you doing with our money?!”
Someone’s going to have some good answers soon, since Ionity is looking for investment to expand the network. Hyundai said last year it planned to invest, and Renault is also looking at a stake. VW might not stump up more funds, since Ionity isn’t on schedule with its buildout, and this isn’t an OEM’s first public complaint about Ionity. A VW marketing exec said the company charges too much for kilowatts, Audi CEO Markus Duesmann has already floated the idea of Audi creating its own charging network. And BMW called Ionity’s build schedule “too unambitious.”
It seems all Diess would have had to do for intel on Ionity’s issues is read its reviews. Autocar tried an Ionity charger earlier this year, describing the process as going “disastrously” when one unit was broken, it couldn’t get the two working units to dispense any energy, yet it still got charged 134 pounds ($160 U.S.) in pre-authorization fees. Ionity’s Facebook page has 142 reviews that add up to 1.5 stars out of 5 for Ionity, while review site Trustpilot gives Ionity a slightly better 2-star rating from 31 reviews. Users from Ireland to Norway complain about the complicated setup and high prices, leaving comments like, “It’s cheaper to burn your empty car and buy a new and charged one,” and, “The EV charging company that makes ICE cars attractive again.”
So far, we’ve only come across one Ionity response to the Diess situation, the company telling Jalopnik, “We cannot comment on your request with a statement on our part and hope for your understanding.”
Ionity was meant to rival Tesla’s Supercharger network. Clearly, this hasn’t happened yet, but maybe callouts like this one will get everyone motivated to forge a more successful path forward.
A potential shortcut to a more successful rollout could be installing EV chargers at gas stations — an idea suitable for the lackluster U.S. charging situation as well, not including Tesla. Roadway fuel stations in the EU are already built out with plentiful comfort facilities to keep families fed, relieved and entertained while those families wait for EV refills. Royal Dutch Shell is said to be considering taking up to a 24% stake for as much as 500 million euros ($589M U.S.). Meanwhile, more EV drivers will likely put more money in Tesla’s expanding pockets when Tesla opens up its Supercharger network of roughly 600 locations in the EU later this year.