Ford Is Buying an EV Charging Firm. The Electric Grid Is the Next Big Thing.

The Ford logo is displayed on a Ford car

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Ford Motor announced a small, seemingly innocuous acquisition Thursday. The size might be small, but the eventual impact on the industry could be large. In coming years, auto makers and providers of electric-vehicle infrastructure—from charging companies to utilities—will start talking about “grid-edge” technology.

The impact on the power grid caused by the coming flood of EVs must be managed. Grid-edge technology can be as simple as a shipping container full of batteries to provide provide power to an EV charging station. The batteries can recharge when demand is low, reducing the strain on the power grid during, say, a hot summer day. Grid-edge technology is going to become an opportunity for investors.

Ford (ticker: F) purchased Electriphi, ” a California-based provider of charging management and fleet-monitoring software for electric vehicles.” For Ford, it’s part of the company’s strategy to build a connected, commercial vehicle business, a priority for new CEO Jim Farley.

Ford is targeting $45 billion in sales from commercial businesses by 2025, up from $27 billion in 2019, the year before pandemic. Much of that growth will come from services, which offer higher profit margins than Ford’s full-sized trucks and vans.

“As commercial customers add electric vehicles to their fleets, they want depot charging options to make sure they’re powered up and ready to go to work every day,” said Ford Pro CEO Ted Cannis in the company’s news release. “With Electriphi’s existing advanced technology IP in the Ford Pro electric vehicles and services portfolio, we will enhance the experience for commercial customers and be a single-source solution for fleet-depot charging.”

Ford estimates the “depot charging” industry—which is essentially privately held, large-scale charging for businesses operating a lot of commercial EVs—will grow to 600,000 trucks and vans by 2030.

Terms of the deal, expected to close this month, weren’t disclosed. What Ford has essentially bought though is entry into the nexus of the utility, distributed power generation, charging, and car business. With widespread EV adoption, the gas station becomes charging port. The oil company becomes the electric utility. The refinery becomes all the battery storage required to smooth out demand for electricity throughout the day. The new grouping will be managed by new software, connecting fleets to their owners, charging options and charging stations.

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A “six-hour charge is about two days of energy use for my home,” Ideanomics (ticker: IDEX) CEO Alf Poor tells Barron’s. “The grid can’t cope with the tipping point where EV becomes mainstream.”

Ideanomics is a small-capitalization company interested in technologies designed to help manage that transition to EVs. The company has one Wall Street analyst covering the stock, according to Bloomberg: Roth Capital’s Craig Irwin, who rates shares at Buy with a $7 price target.

Poor has a big vision though. He is acquiring assets that augment the grid’s capabilities. Ideanomics bought privately held Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification, or Wave, in January 2021. Wave’s technology can charge EVs without cords—like people can do with smartphone charge pads today. It’s one example of a grid-edge technology, which includes the software Ford just bought.

EVs are still a small part of the vehicle fleet today, but that’s changing, and creating opportunity for small companies such as Ideanomics as well as huge, century-old companies such as Ford.

Ford stock is up about 68% year to date while Ideanomics stock has gained about 54%. Both stocks have outperformed the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Write to Al Root at allen.root@dowjones.com

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