On the eve of FLO’s latest product launch for 320 kW charging equipment, Electric Autonomy sat down with Louis Tremblay, president and CEO, to discuss the company’s position in Canada’s public EV charging network
Charging network operator FLO will offer new high-speed charging stations — up to 320 kW — to Canadian and American customers through FLO Ultra.
In an announcement made by the company today, FLO Ultra will offer charging speeds up to 320 kW. Some EVs will see an 80 per cent charge in 15 minutes. The stations also have a guaranteed minimum uptime of 98 per cent.
The charging station offers multiple parking configuration options for two vehicles at a time as well as built-in visibility lighting and motorized cables.
Ahead of the network operator’s announcement, Electric Autonomy interviewed FLO president and CEO, Louis Tremblay.
In a wide ranging discussion, Tremblay offered his perspective on the state of Canada’s public charging network, what operators need to do to meet the demand of tomorrow and where FLO stands on hot button topics like uptime mandates and charging speeds.
FLO’s Canadian vision
The advent of FLO Ultra aligns with the network operator’s ambitions to position itself as the most reliable and accessible public charging option for Canadians.
The following interview with Tremblay has been edited for length and clarity.
Electric Autonomy: What’s the lay of the land for public charging in Canada right now? How are you feeling about the trajectory of growth and the challenges?
Louis Tremblay: We are really excited about the growth of the market and the EV models that are now available.
FLO has more than 500 employees. We were half of this 16 months ago. We have two plants in Shawinigan, we have one in Michigan. All of this is ramping up quickly.
Electric Autonomy: And how are you finding manufacturing in Canada? We always talk to companies manufacturing cars or batteries. How’s it going with manufacturing charging stations in North America?
Louis Tremblay: It’s going well. One part of what makes FLO a success or helps us to provide a great EV driver experience at the station is that we’re vertically integrated.
I always like to correct people when they say we’re manufacturing because, in fact, we’re assembling. Everything that is automated, die casting of aluminium-printed circuit board is done with partners. We manage a network of partners so it’s a lot easier for us to scale and produce tens of thousands of chargers. We control the final assembly — the quality of the product — to make sure that when we when we ship the chargers, they’re functioning.
Electric Autonomy: Thank you for that clarification. On the topic of tens of thousands of chargers, the huge announcement for FLO this past year was with General Motors and the 40,000 chargers being provided to their dealerships across North America. What further information can you share about FLO being in a position to partner on other large-scale projects?
Louis Tremblay: I like the way you phrase it not specifically to General Motors, because we are planning a aggressive growth year-over-year. So the good thing about it is we were good at forecasting. But the other thing is we see an acceleration in the market.
Government on both sides of the borders want to deploy the necessary infrastructure to make people feel safe that they will be able to charge. They are putting requirements on reliability to making sure that the taxpayer money is going to be deployed with reliable functioning products for years.
Our manufacturing plans are just delivering what we were we were planning on. It’s great for us to see that not only do we have six months of visibility, but now those big players are planning three years ahead and we’re able to secure the materials even through supply chain challenges. It really helps us to have a smoother route. It used to be more hectic 10 years ago.
Electric Autonomy: Hectic is a good word for it. In terms of your view on the public charging network in Canada, there continues to be a debate about how many chargers we need to have a robust network. What are your thoughts on that?
Louis Tremblay: One thing we keep on stressing to people (and that is part of our mission) is bringing a great service to EV drivers. A lot of the stations deployed in Canada and elsewhere in the world are what I call “dots on the map.” So, let’s install chargers. But you want to pay less for the charger and you don’t want to pay a network fee, or something. This hasn’t helped us in the last 10-15 years. So what we really like is to see government and people that want to deploy capital to help this industry. They care a lot more about the quality of the of the charger and the service. Now we see more chargers with standards and the emerging discussion about reliability.
Electric Autonomy: Is there a concern that Canada won’t get a charging uptime standard or do you think good progress is happening? Would you like it to go faster?
Louis Tremblay: We are for standards. This is something we led on and we’re going to we’re going to lead on.
We’re trying to pace it as there are so many requirements. We’re trying to build an industry where many players can grow, but there’s a limit to failure. There’s a limit to taxpayer money that can be poured in.
It’s outrageous to me that Berkeley’s University in California made a study in the Bay Area with 650 fast chargers and 27.5 per cent of stations were out of service. It needs to be like in telecom when uptime is 99 per cent-something. We have a long way to go.
We need to have these discussions. Obviously, as entrepreneurs, we always want to go faster. But we also understand that every 10 years the full fleet of Canada is being replaced. So, there’s a limit to the adoption, but on that we’re yes, we’re really pushy. But it resonates.
If we don’t bring the standard, if we don’t bring the discussion our industry will not flourish.
Electric Autonomy: What about the issue of charging speeds? Some stakeholders are advocating that only chargers with certain minimum charging speeds — 100 kW and up — should be eligible for public funding and not Level 2s.
Louis Tremblay: I would say you need to invest in both. I understand that the fast charger is more appealing, but it doesn’t serve all applications. The grid cannot sustain fast charging all the time in the middle of the city. It can be crazy expensive.
So, to me, it’s a balance. On the highway it makes a lot of sense to have 50, 100, 150 and 300 kW. But most cars cannot even get more than 75 per cent of 100 kilowatt right now.
Electric Autonomy: What is your hope for the future of Canada’s public charging network?
Louis Tremblay: FLO is very supportive of systematic efforts to try to address the MURB issue and really provide solutions. We know that in order to make EVs stick we need to ensure everybody has access. Part of an equitable approach and a democratic approach to EV charging is that we do make sure to find solutions for for people who are in MURBs.
We’re trying to skate where the puck is going, not where it is. This is really important in our in our industry.
FLO Ultra will be available in North America in 2024. Further details on the program may be found here.
The chargers will meet Buy America standards, FLO says.
“EV demand and sales are topping all industry expectations and are now forecasted to exceed more than 45% of U.S. light duty vehicle sales by 2030,” said Nathan Yang, FLO chief product officer in a press release.
“As new EV drivers hit the road, they will be looking for fast charging that is safe, accessible, convenient, intuitive and reliable. This is why we designed FLO Ultra — to provide the ultimate EV charging experience.”