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Electric Life Orchestra

Interview with Thorsten Nicklass CEO of Elli

Electric cars, charging points, the power supply, charging cards, billing processes, load management and so on. And in the middle of it all? “Elli”, the Volkswagen Group’s new subsidiary. Its mission: to make the extremely complex issue of electromobility noticeably simpler and more accessible. In this interview, CEO Thorsten Nicklass reveals how fleet customers can benefit.

Fleet Magazine: Mr Nicklass, Elli was launched in 2018. Can you describe your company’s mission in just a few sentences?

Thorsten Nicklass: Elli focuses on pressing needs where energy and mobility meet in order to help electric cars achieve a breakthrough. For example, we’d like to make charging part of everyday life for our customers – something they do automatically without thinking about it, just like using a smartphone.

What role does the power supply play in this context? After all, private customers and small companies can obtain certified green electricity from Elli …

Thorsten Nicklass: That’s right, supplying energy is an integral part of what we do. If you think electromobility through to the end, the electricity used for charging must be green. And this is exactly what we’ve been offering the groups of customers that you mentioned since the beginning of the year.

Elli helps fleet customers to achieve ecologically sustainable electromobility. We already provide advice regarding the development of an intelligent charging infrastructure.

Thorsten Nicklass

Where exactly does this electricity come from? And if you don’t mind me asking, is it always available in sufficient quantities?

Thorsten Nicklass: Most of the energy comes from hydroelectric and wind power stations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland – it’s all guaranteed to be 100 percent renewable. As far as supply security is concerned, let me put it this way: if we reached the limits of our supply capacity, we’d be happy as it would mean that electromobility had achieved broad acceptance. For the foreseeable future, I don’t predict any limitations – if demand for green electricity grows, we simply offer more of it. And of course, you can be one of our customers without owing an electric car.

And what’s the situation like as regards supplying electricity for bigger companies?

Thorsten Nicklass: Companies of a certain size often have dedicated departments for this – we don’t aim to take over all aspects of their electricity procurement. We’d like to help companies like these and in particular fleet customers to achieve ecologically sustainable electromobility.

How can you do this?

Thorsten Nicklass: The charging infrastructure is a key area here. We already provide fleet customers with expert advice when it comes to setting up such an infrastructure and integrating it intelligently into company processes. Working together with partner companies, Elli also installs charging stations and, in the future, could even operate them and optimise them on an ongoing basis. When it comes to load management, dimensioning the connected load etc., we always work closely with our major customers’ advisors – we essentially function as a “tandem”. We’d like to be a fleet partner that can answer all important questions relating to electromobility; our aim is to reduce complexity and to generate added value.

Speaking of complexity: any company that operates an electric fleet must deal with charging cards and different billing processes. What can Elli do here?

Thorsten Nicklass: We’re working hard to expand our portfolio with a view to approaching fleet customers with tailored offerings in the near future. Charging cards that can be used across all Group brands already exist. We want to further enhance these charging cards for fleets – with real-time data and customizable solutions. This means we’re the right people if a company wants its own charging card with its own branding to allow staff to charge vehicles at specific public charging stations which are shown in a navigation system and can even be reserved. Or another conceivable scenario: user choosers who are allowed to use their electric car privately should be able to charge their car at home at the company’s expense. In order to do this, they need their own payment point. In such cases too, our services can help and ensure transparent, easily understandable billing processes.

Elli’s portfolio will gradually grow. Among other things, we’d like to allow transparent and easily understandable billing processes when charging electric company vehicles.

Thorsten Nicklass

Is there a set schedule for the products mentioned?

Thorsten Nicklass: As far as our services for fleets and company car users are concerned, the focus is very much on 2020 with the market launch of Volkswagen’s ID.3. There are still a number of unresolved legal issues – for example questions regarding the billing processes we just talked about. In order to ensure full compliance with German laws, you’d need a wall box in your home which complies with calibration requirements. It sounds complicated, and to be honest it is. However, I’m sure that we’ll clarify all the outstanding issues in the months ahead and that we’ll be able to launch our products soon.

The Volkswagen Group is also part of the IONITY network which is installing fast-charging stations along major European roads. What’s your company’s position in this context?

Thorsten Nicklass: Naturally, these high-power charging stations are extremely important for longer journeys; in contrast, Elli is focusing on use cases relating to charging at home or in companies. I don’t believe we’re competing against IONITY – it’s more of a cooperative situation. We want to give electromobility the push it needs – and we’re always glad of support to help us make this vision reality.

VITA – Thorsten Nicklass

Thorsten Nicklass was born in Freising and studied electrical engineering in Munich as well as economics in and outside Europe. Over the course of his professional career, he worked for companies including Deutsche Telekom and VIAG Interkom in the area of telecommunications. After several years working for Siemens in the Asia/Pacific region, he took on various global management roles within the company and was responsible for establishing new business divisions. After setting up his own smart grid company, he moved to a position focusing on BMW’s group strategy. Here, he developed digital energy-related business models which he then implemented as managing director of a subsidiary company set up specially by BMW and Viessmann. In 2019, Nicklass joined the Volkswagen Group and is now Chief Executive Officer of the newly established Group subsidiary Elli which bundles together all activities connected with charging and the energy industry.

For further information on setting up an e-charging infrastructure in companies, please refer to the Compendium  Electric charging for fleets.