Cafu En Charge, a mobile electric vehicle charger and app, developed by Cafu in partnership with Quebec’s Innovative Vehicle Institute, begins its first commercial pilot in Montreal this week
A new, mobile fast-charging solution meant to boost access to charging infrastructure for electric vehicle drivers is being launched this week in Quebec.
The service is a world first for Cafu, a Dubai-based on-demand vehicle service provider, which chose Quebec as the site to develop and launch the new offering.
Cafu’s mobile charging solution, Cafu En Charge, involves a Ford E-Transit van outfitted with a charging station and batteries and a mobile app. Through the app, users can order Cafu to meet them at any location to charge to their vehicle. Once the session is complete, Cafu bills the user via the app.
The E-Transit is equipped with a 140 kWh battery pack that enables 50kW of fast charging once it is plugged into the customer’s vehicle. The charger supports either a CCS or Tesla connector.
Cafu showcased the prototype of its mobile EV charger and app at the Innovative Vehicle Institute (IVI) in Saint-Jérôme, Que., as part of Impulsion, the International Summit on Electric and Smart Transportation conference, hosted by Propulsion Québec earlier this month.
Complement to stationary charging
The service is designed to provide a convenient solution for EV owners who may not have access to home charging, or who need an extra boost of energy on the go. The company also sees it as a solution for fleets operators that might not have completed installations of their on-the-ground charging infrastructure.
“This is a complement — not a replacement — of static infrastructure models, which is what everyone is thinking is the solution for EV adoption,” said Alaa El Huni, chief business officer of Cafu, at the IVI showcase presentation.
“The reality is that a mobile, intelligent, connected infrastructure model is a smart play for us to pursue. We urge others to consider a similar type of reimagining, reinventing and disrupting the way we bring energy to vehicles in the future.”
This week’s launch involves just a single-vehicle pilot, operating in Montreal. If successful, Cafu’s plan is to add more vehicles with different-sized battery capacities to target different users and service more clients.
Quebec an ideal “gateway”
Cafu operates as an on-demand vehicle services provider in Dubai. Its offerings include on-demand battery replacement and jump-starting, fuel delivery, tire changes, car washes and maintenance checks. The company says it receives around 20,000 orders per day.
When it came time to decide where to expand its business globally, Cafu saw Quebec as the ideal “gateway” into the North American market and saw an opportunity to develop a new type of service for EV users.
“We had the whole world to go to and obviously I’m from Quebec, so the lobby from Quebec was strong,” says Jean-François Lapierre, senior vice president international and head of special projects at Cafu, in an interview with Electric Autonomy. But ultimately what clinched the deal was seeing how “impressive” the clean transportation ecosystem is in the province and the expertise it has in developing EV innovations, he adds.
Cafu partnered with IVI, a Quebec-based research centre that helps companies develop and commercialize technologies related to electric, autonomous, and connected transportation.
“Our mission [at IVI] is to help Quebec companies develop their transportation innovations. Specifically, Cafu wanted to start and establish its operations in Quebec, to enhance mobility support services here. This goal aligns with our mission of helping Quebec businesses innovate in the transportation industry,” says Julie Derro, communication coordinator at IVI, in a written statement to Electric Autonomy.
“The initial request was a bit unexpected, however, we had confidence in our ability to assist, support and execute this project, and support their innovation objective.”
Developing the technology
Discussions between Cafu and IVI around the development of the mobile EV charger started in late 2021.
“While Cafu were experts in managing fleets of gasoline vehicles, they lacked the expertise in electricity, which is why they decided to engage with us,” says Derro. “Their model in Quebec is adapted to Quebec’s clean energy transportation needs and offers an energy delivery service to meet user demands and the province’s sustainable transportation goals.”
During the first phase of development, IVI worked with Cafu to select the different components that would be part of the mobile charger, including batteries, the charging station and the Ford E-Transit van.
One of the main challenges was finding a solution to manage road vibrations in moving vehicles without damaging charging station equipment, says Lapierre.
Cafu ultimately partnered with ABB E-mobility. It provided them with the same charging unit it developed for the Formula E electric car racing series.
“[ABB E-mobility] are doing the Formula-E charging stations that are moving around the world every two weeks. They carry them around, they shake them around, they go into parking lots and all of those things, so that equipment was really well suited for us,” says Lapierre.
Another consideration Cafu faced during the development phase was deciding on the weight and payload of the batteries.
Lapierre explains that the amount of energy they were able to store in the charger strictly depended on how much weight the E-Transit van could handle.
“I would like to have more batteries, [but] these batteries are currently very heavy. We need to respect the payload capacity of the truck,” says Lapierre.
As battery technology advances and costs drop, Lapierre hopes Cafu will be able to add more battery capacity to its service in the future. He also adds that he wants to add multiple dispensers and charging ports so Cafu can charge multiple vehicles at once.
Tests and future plans
The Montreal pilot will be Cafu En Charge’s first testing with real-world clients. The purpose is to better gauge the user experience and road-test the app’s functionality.
Lapierre says Cafu will be “making tweaks” to improve its charger and app based on user feedback during the testing phase.
With only one prototype, Cafu will be able to service on average eight to 10 clients per day. During downtime, it will recharge the vehicle and its batteries.
The longer-term goal is to add more vehicles with different-sized battery capacities in order to target different users and service more clients — both in Quebec and in other cities in Canada and the U.S.
Cafu plans to expand through licensing agreements with different companies in different locations.
“If somebody in Toronto or somebody in even the U.S. wants to have a similar model like ours, we’re able to provide them access to our app. Essentially, we give them a lease model on our assets and they can start their business in a kind of an Uber fashion to really start distributing energy using the Cafu app,” says Lapierre.
Last autumn I had the opportunity to use a very similar service in France and in Germany on a recent holiday, through a company called E-GAP, already operating in different countries and cities in Europe. They came with a fully electric van, DC charging at 60kW in the middle of Paris my Tesla Model 3, without having to do anything. I just had to book through their app, it was fantastic. They seem ahead of this test in Quebec as already operating in many cities!
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