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Plug Zen Product Can Charge 10 Electric Vehicles at Once

Plug Zen, a Detroit-based company founded by former Ford employee Kwabena “Q” Johnson, will show off its charging platform at the New York International Auto Show in September against competitors such as Tesla and Shell.

EV charging station
Shutterstock/Have a nice day Photo
(TNS) — From Los Angeles to Las Vegas to New York, the biggest names in auto have been getting a preview into what Detroit’s latest startup has in store for the North American International Auto Show.

Plug Zen, an electric vehicle charging manufacturer, has been taking its product on the road before returning home for the auto show in September. Most recently, the multi-charging platform got a spot at the New York International Auto Show.

Founded by Detroit native Kwabena “Q” Johnson, Plug Zen is one of the few Black-owned businesses in the new electric vehicle space. But Johnson isn’t new to the auto industry. Before making the leap to electric he worked at Ford for 10 years in the company’s alternative fuel division.

Johnson moved into the EV space in 2006 before launching Plug Zen in 2020.

“I saw the vision early on,” he said.

Plug Zen is entering a hot market with competitors like Tesla, BP and Shell.

Open Charge Map, a crowd sourced electric vehicle data site, estimates there are almost 50,000 charge stations across more than 31,000 locations in the U.S. Plug Zen is looking to be among them in the push to spread the EV movement far and wide and avoid charging deserts.

Johnson’s model is set up less like a EV gas station and more like a parking garage.

Multi-family housing and workplaces are the ideal location for these multi-vehicle hybrid stations that can offer both wired and wireless charging.

Plug Zen platforms can charge up to 10 vehicles simultaneously. Most EV charging stations have single or double units currently. Plug Zen separates itself from the pack with its scalability to have additional units plugged into each other, Johnson said.

“Most people, they’ll be topping off at home or at work so they’ll never run out of juice,” he said. “Anywhere where a vehicle will likely sit for two hours or more will be an ideal place for our EV chargers.”

The charging stations will be put to the test at The Detroit Smart Parking Lab in May. The Corktown location is a physical parking structure operated by the American Center for Mobility intended to be a space for real-world testing of parking-related mobility technologies, logistics and electric vehicle charging.

After flying around the country to show off Plug Zen, Johnson will round home in September to showcase the charging stations in Detroit at the Auto Show.

There have been “bumps and bruises” along the way, Johnson said.

With semiconductor chips being in such demand, the startup was competing with much larger orders from across the auto industry. Ultimately the shortage stalled production for eight weeks, he said.

“We ordered our chips in November, they told us we couldn’t get them until February, and when February came they sold it from under us,” Johnson said.

The shortage has changed how the small business operates, Johnson said. Instead of ordering in advance and paying over time, the company has switched to buying chips outright to claim its stake. This means a lot more money is needed up front for the start-up.

“Fundraising was really important for us to have that money where you get to buy it outright and warehouse it,” he said. “Larger companies are just finding where these chips are and just snatching them up.”

Access to capital has been a major hurdle for Black and brown entrepreneurs. Despite being in the automotive capital, Johnson said he had to look outside of Michigan for investors.

Plug Zen received its $1.5 million seed capital from Brown Venture Group, LLC, a venture capital firm exclusively for Black, Latinx and indigenous technology startups. The group is based in Minneapolis.

This hasn’t discouraged Johnson, who is still all in on Detroit’s electric, automotive renaissance.

“Detroit has the greatest automotive background,” he said. “So if it’s automotive, you’re gonna find the support you need.”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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