| March 10, 2022

Q&A with Tim Washington, co-founder JET Charge and Chargefox

When Tim Washington of JET Charge addresses industry conferences – a regular occurrence, he’s in high demand – he invariably paints fascinating fresh perspectives on the likely trajectory of the EV industry. 

The year 2022 marks one decade since Tim Washington pioneered EV charging by founding JET Charge. Was it a leap of faith, or one based on sound reasoning fused with his trademark foresight? Here we look at the former corporate lawyer’s foray into the world of electric vehicles and foothold as Australia’s leading EV charging infrastructure provider. 

What aspects of your background led you to EVs?

Tim: I’ve always loved technology. I think those who really believe and look forward to new technology are always taking a leap of faith – this one will be better, it will make my life easier, more entertaining, more enjoyable. The problem for me is that I was never good enough at the sciences to actually do any of the technology creation. I also really like cars, but again I was never good enough on the tools to really tinker with them or do anything other than sit in them and then, as soon as I could, drive them.

But my love of tech and cars was ultimately combined when I started looking at EVs. This is “something”, I thought.  Not sure what, but “something”.  I guess in our crazy startup world where, at least at the start, belief is more important than a slick pitch deck, “something” was enough.

By the time my co-founder, Ellen Liang, and I travelled to Scandinavia, including Norway, we had already made up our mind that we were going to get into EV charging. It was, however, only when we got there that we realised just how fast we needed to move, as this transition was coming hard and fast. 2014 Norway actually reminds me a bit of 2022 Australia, but with seemingly even more EVs and more street side charging infrastructure.

My background in the law definitely helped me speak with incumbent industries, especially at the higher level, but it was my 5-year stint in the family business that actually prepared me for the emotional turmoil that would come from starting your own business.

 

Did you suffer any early doubts about demand for JET Charge services here in Australia or were you confident from get go about the industry’s traction? 

“Early” doubts? Haha. I suffer doubts all the time. I guess the difference is that doubts, which I think is an “I am helpless” word, turns into problems. That was a good transition, because I can solve problems – it’s harder for me to solve doubts.  That transition probably happened after the first 5 years.

It was natural to have doubts though. Almost every person I spoke with at the start of my journey, including my family, told me that I was making a mistake. Everyone. The only people who believed in us were my co-founders Ellen and Jay, and the early folk at Tesla Australia. 

It was hard for me to even think about the EV industry as an industry at all. It wasn’t. I remember distinctly sitting in a board room at a property developer’s office and he said to me “yes I believe in sustainability Tim, economic sustainability”. I knew we were in for a long, uphill battle, which we continue to fight to this day.

But I knew then, and I know now, that we were going to win. 

That’s because I fundamentally believe that human behaviour at a macro level is fairly predictable, and that whilst there is always some consternation around the time of transition to something new, we inevitably settle into that “new thing” and forget about the times that we even questioned it.  So when I saw that there was a clear trend towards EVs being cheaper to buy, cheaper to run, and the convenience of charging at home, I knew it was only a matter of time. Every criticism that was levelled at EVs at the time was timing based – “it’s too expensive”, “it doesn’t have enough range”, “it can’t charge fast enough”, “the grid isn’t green enough” – I knew all of these challenges were being solved quickly by extremely smart people around the world, and the charts were already showing increased adoption year on year, and the challenges were being solved year on year.

So that’s why I knew Australia would follow the same path.

 

Can you list the key milestones in the development of JET Charge and Chargefox? 

For JET Charge, it would have been investment by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.  It was the first time we had accepted money from investors, but it helped propel our growth drastically, and set us up for the burgeoning market. 

For Chargefox, I think it was when we decided on a strategy to work with the vehicle OEMs on the first ultra rapid public charging network in Australia. 

 

Conversely, what have been your biggest hurdles to date within the business? 

Every day is a hurdle and a challenge because we are trying to do things that have not been done before in this country.

If I had to pick a couple, it would be:

  • It’s hard to convey “value” in the EV charging market, because it’s too young, and nobody has had the opportunity to really prove themselves yet. 
  • The lack of understanding of the differences between EVs and ICE and how they fuel leads to bad organisational and governmental decisions.

 

What prime advantages does your role as chair of the EV Council bring to the broader EV industry?

I don’t think me being Chair brings many advantages to the broader EV industry, because it’s not really down to an individual. Behyad and the team at EV Council do an amazing job at advocacy, and my role as Chair is to make sure that the EV Council as an organisation itself grows in the background.

In terms of the EV Council itself, it provides a vital role in bringing together many different industries to be the face of EVs in this country. It punches way above its weight and I’m super proud of what the Council has achieved thus far. 

 

Do you have any plans to expand JET Charge and Chargefox into overseas regions in the future?

Does New Zealand count?  Because we’re already there!

JET Charge technology is also installed in the US.  But for the moment, our primary focus is on Australia and New Zealand. There’s enough here for us. 

 

In 2032 JET Charge will celebrate two decades of business and Chargefox its 25th anniversary: just what will the EV industry look like then?

The EV industry will just be the car and energy industries. The role of the vehicle as an energy storage device, a generator, and a motor vehicle in one, will place it at the top of the pile in terms of asset value.

EV sales will have hit around 70% of new vehicle sales, and almost 30% of us will be driving EVs, hitting 100% of all vehicles on the road in the same decade.

Kids will forget what ICE vehicles are, and everyone will be used to powering their home with an EV, regardless of whether you live in an apartment or a house.

The start of autonomous vehicle zones allows EVs to freely move between nearby locations, absorbing large amounts of excess renewables, or providing grid support where required, all while supplementing the existing electricity grid. This behaviour encourages the build out of local renewable generation, and lowers everyone’s motoring and electricity costs.

 

Are you inspired by any particular individual (living or dead)?

I know this is going to sound corny but I am consistently motivated by the ability of every day people to be outrageously smart, incisive, funny, kind and hard working.  One of the good things about social media is that it shows just how many people in the world, if given the opportunity, could do great things.  Likewise, I sit in meetings with my team and am just blown away by some of their ideas.  These are the people that inspire me, rather than any one individual.

 

Anything else interesting you would like to add? 

I guess the only thing I would add is this: if you have an opportunity in life where you can take one year off, without getting paid, and pursue what you love, or discover what you might love in the future, just do it. Not many people can afford to do this, and certainly when you’re younger it’s easier, but if you’re reading this interview, and you are in the fortunate position to give it a go – do it, be ambitious.

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