Perth has been a proving ground for Wevolt’s Airbnb-style service, matching EV owners and charging stations.
THE sight of a Tesla gracing the roads of Perth may be increasingly common but the city is hardly ground zero in the take-up of electric vehicles.
In fact, plenty of statistics suggest Western Australia lags most, if not all, amongst the Western world in that department.
Which makes it even more unexpected that an 18-month-old startup reckons it has cracked the code of creating the Airbnb equivalent for the EV market.
Perth-based Wevolt went public with its offering in May, giving both EV owners and those with charging stations a platform to find each other and transact.
In the growing but still niche market for recharging an EV battery outside your home or office, it is a challenge to locate such a service, let alone when it is available, what it costs and how to pay for it.
And it is not just a problem for drivers.
While the transaction itself can still be a hassle for both parties, charge station owners can often wait considerable periods for payment through many systems, according to Wevolt founder and chief executive Jagroop Gill.
An EV owner and connoisseur before he and several friends banded together to fund the development of the app company he runs, Mr Gill said that in hindsight it proved fortuitous to start Wevolt in WA, even though it is one of the weakest EV markets in a nation that lags the world in the same way.
In 2022, of the 105,905 cars sold in WA, just 3,080 or about 3 per cent, were electric, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
That was well below the Australian average of 4.3 per cent, which itself was a barely half the US rate of 8 per cent, the lowest of three major global car markets.
By comparison, globally, a total of 14 per cent of all new cars sold were electric in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.
“It was not intentional, we were in Perth,” Mr Gill said.
“Our business model, and the way we saw our product rolling out, we saw Perth as a testing ground.
“Perth being isolated could be a good thing.”
He said that, despite being a relatively small group, local EV users were a tight-knit community that had been very helpful as the company developed and iterated its app.
“We are embedded in the community and constantly getting feedback on the different pain points they are experiencing,” he said.
A charging station on the Wevolt app. Photo: Michael O’Brien
Another unexpected benefit of being in Perth has been the talent pool for developers.
Mr Gill said he had been surprised by the access to high-quality people he had found once he sought it, aided by the founders’ connections to India’s locally based diaspora, which includes a big programming community.
“We thought it would be hard but it has been the opposite,” he said.
“There is talent in WA but there is not a lot of opportunity,” he said.
“We can’t compete with what the mining giants offer but we can offer an exciting opportunity.
“EV is an exciting space, and our offering is attracting people.
“It is about getting the messaging right and sharing your vision.”
Wevolt has been funded by a local network of friends and family connections, largely out of the Indian community in Perth, which stumped up a little more than $1 million to get the business started.
The company also won a $40,000 Innovation Booster Grant from the state government this year.
It is embarking on another fundraising round, seeking at least another $1 million, this time from external sources.
It has also built a recognisable advisory board, including technology financier Tommy Shin and former federal cabinet member Michael Keenan, whose last portfolio in government was that of minister of digital transformation.
Mr Shin said the advisory board had helped shape the project and bring it to commercialisation faster.
He said Wevolt was earning revenue after 18 months of investment in development and testing with major charge station companies.
“We definitely made some good headway in terms of commercialising it,” Mr Shin said.
By early September, Wevolt had 1,100 customers who have utilised more than 2,500 charging sessions, which typically cost the user between $9 and $12 depending on the speed of the charger involved, the tariff the charger station owner applies, and the amount of electricity acquired.
Some charging stations are free but commercial chargers might be around 45 cents per kilowatt for slower AC, or 60 cents/kw for faster-charging DC.
Most of Wevolt’s customer base is in WA but it already has charge stations and EV drivers using the app interstate.
The technology is transferable to international markets, although there were changes required due to currency adjustments, the types of charging stations dominating markets and some technical differences such as the wattages used.
Furthermore, in less-developed markets electrification has been skewed by growth in vehicles such as motorcycles and motorised rickshaws, which provided a different opportunity.
The most obvious competitor in the Australian market is Chargefox, which is essentially an infrastructure provider that owns charging stations.
Chargefox raised more than $15 million in 2018 to roll out fast-charging stations around the country.
Backed by the major state-based motoring membership organisations, which collectively took 40 per cent of the startup, supported by the federal and Victorian governments and further investment from private players like Carsales founder, Greg Roebuck.
Last year Australian Motoring Services, a company owned by state-based organisations, including RAC, took 100 per cent ownership of Chargefox for an undisclosed sum, thought to be about $30 million, valuing the firm at $50 million.