PlugShare is a smartphone app which provides a crowd-sourced database of EV charging stations. PlugShare app users search for charging stations close to where they are. Location is based on the smart phones GPS. If a user finds a station not in the database, it is a easy task to add a new station based on the GPS location of the phone.
The application promises to combine charging stations into one database, regardless of the chargers network affiliation or manufacturer. Each charging network has its own web and/or smartphone app to locate their chargers, but the EV owner just wants to find the closest or most convenient charging station without regard to who makes it, or who manages it.
The best part of the service is that it is free, which creates a problem for the app developer. How are they going to generate income? I received an online survey today asking various questions, the last of which asked the apps users straight-up, ‘how should we monetize PlugShare, we have to keep the lights on’. They are in search of a business model, it sounds backwards creating something first then figuring out how to make it pay, but that is very typical approach with mobile and web apps these days. Many SmartPhone apps have two versions. A free feature limited or is advertising supported version, and second version which costs money to buy but adds extra features or removes advertising.
With just over 5,000 Nissan Leaf’s sold and about 3,000 Chevy Volts, the app developer has a limited market right now. Monetization with such a small target market is tough. As more EV’s are sold they should be positioned to capitalize, but how? It’s not as if they have the only application that can do this, Recargo also have a similar app, but it is limited to the iPhone. Recargo’s website is much better however, PlugShare only have a static webpage right now.
With competition and a small target market, one has to believe there will be consolidation. If PlugShare and ReCargo can hang on long enough for a crop of new EV’s to come onto the market in 2012 from manufacturers such as Ford, Tesla and Toyota they may all survive; maybe. Advertising such as Adsense inside the app would make the most sense short term until they can develop new features users will be willing to pay for.