Detroit startup presents equity-focused “EV for All” mission at auto show

Plug Zen was founded with the mission to “bring EV into everyone” by bringing charging platforms to underserved communities.

Electric vehicles are primarily sold among luxury vehicle customers for cost reasons, including infrastructure investments such as the addition of a home charger. Founder Kwabena “Q” Johnson agrees that this requirement excludes drivers living in apartments and other multi-family homes that do not have access to a private garage.

The black-owned startup is touring the nation’s auto shows with its multi-platform charging prototype, and it came home to the Detroit Auto Show this week to announce its manufacturing partner at Detroit Manufacturing Systems LLC.

Production is expected to begin in early 2023 with a target of 50,000 units in the first year. Detroit Manufacturing Systems will perform the final assembly of the charging stations at its facility. The Plug Zen is taking orders at the Detroit Auto Show, which runs until September 25.

Related: Tesla’s next rival? Detroit entrepreneur enters EV charging space

Plug Zen differentiates its product from a crowded electric charging industry with its multi-charging platform that can be scaled by adding substations to accommodate up to 10 vehicles charging simultaneously.

The vision is to make the charging infrastructure look more like a parking lot than a gas station.

“With 80% [of drivers] charging at home, how do these people living in underserved communities that rarely use highways, or these people living in multi-family homes who want to charge when they get home, access charging?” said Johnson.

Johnson told reporters that the pilot program plans to give 100 stations free for data collection purposes.

During the show, Johnson also announced Plug Zen’s next venture, the in-car charging concept EV EVERYwhere. In a promotional video, a driver was seen unplugging a charging cable built into the vehicle and plugging it into a standard three-prong outlet for electricity.

The in-vehicle charging concept is marketed to original equipment manufacturers. Johnson, who previously worked at Ford for 10 years in the company’s alternative fuel division, said he presented the idea to the Big Three.

The goal is to start production of the in-car charging concept in late 2023, with fleet vehicles as its primary focus. Plug Zen will work with Detroit Manufacturing Systems to fine-tune the product.

Johnson said the biggest challenge for Plug Zen, which was founded in 2020, is raising capital and surviving supply chain disruptions.

With semiconductor chips in such demand, the startup was competing with much larger orders from the auto industry. Ultimately, the famine halted production for eight weeks, Johnson told MLive in a previous interview.

“We ordered our chips in November, they said we wouldn’t get them until February, and when February came, they sold out for six of us,” he said.

President Joe Biden visited the Detroit Auto Show to encourage management’s move towards electricity. While there, the White House announced that the federal government would fund plans to charge infrastructure in 35 states, including Michigan.

When asked what to say to the president, Johnson kept it simple: “Help me.”

“If big businesses are having problems with their supply chain, that means small businesses are having problems too,” Johnson said.

For an updated list of stories from the Detroit Auto Show, Click here.

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