We wrote about Driveco back in May when the company received an important 250 million euros investment to reach new markets on the western side of the continent, among other plans.

Recently, we had a chat with the company's CEO, Ion Leahu-Aluas, a French entrepreneur with Romanian roots who aims to take over Western Europe's charging network and grow further from there.

Born in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Ion left the Heart of Ardeal with his family when he was 11 to move to the United States. Later on, he studies aeronautical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and then he moved to France, where he studied mechanical engineering.

From joining Airbus to founding a charging station company in Europe

Ultimately, Ion's dream back then was to join European aeronautical company Airbus, but after finishing his Master's Degree, he decided against it and looked at the energy industry for a potential future career.

After working in the solar panel field for five years in France, Italy and Western Africa at the very beginning of the solar energy revolution, he then specialized into solar energy to battery storage solutions.

"In 2014, that's when I thought about coupling not only the energy production and energy storage, but also how can we put it to the use of decarbonizing the transport sector", Ion shared with us.

Originally an R&D project, Driveco was able to build in 2016 the first charging system, which it used to determine how locally-produced solar power can be used to charge a wide variety of vehicles.

"We are a company that is the manufacturer of the charging stations, we install it, we operate it, we have a full software solution that manages each charger in real time, because thanks to the Internet of Things, these are highly interconnected", the CEO of Driveco said for Green Start-Up.

Currently available in France and Belgium, Driveco charging stations are being installed and operated 100% by the company's team, both on a hardware and software level. In France, according to Ion Leahu-Aluas, Driveco has the largest charging station infrastructure, with one of the best availability rates, close to 99%.

Through its solutions, the company was able to help the EV sector avoid 18.000 tons of CO2 from charging the vehicles, with one million charging sessions already achieved.

The biggest EV charging investment round in France

The CEO also shared with us that the 250 million euros funding round was the largest to date in France regarding the EV charging industry, which the company will use, among other things, to deploy and operate Driveco-proprietary charging stations.

After taking over neighboring countries with charging infrastructure for battery-powered cars, the French company targets other regions, as well, such as Eastern Europe, but that will come at a later date, as per Ion. We learned from him that the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland are three of the countries that his company plans to expand to next, but drivers in Italy and Spain should also rejoice, because Driveco will bring its charging solution there, as well.

The wish to develop an EV charging solution back in 2015 came from the fact that "we didn't find a satisfactory product operating on the market", we were told.

Using the strict regulations from the aeronautical industry, Ion and his team was set to build one of the best charging solutions on the market with regards to the strength of the network and with some of the lowest failure rates out there.

What's interesting is that, even if a charging station stops functioning, Driveco engineers are still able to look at it, because the station will appear as online, thanks to the fact that the reporting system has its own power source.

A full-fledged solution developed and manufactured in France

Also building on the highest standards, Ion decided to take on manufacturing the charging points locally, in France, in order to make a product that "will last a long, long time."

The average lifespan of Driveco charging stations, as per the CEO, is about 10 years per unit, which can boost the confidence of drivers, but also of customers who decide to implement this solution.

"It's of course, a higher investment at the beginning, but we don't have to replace it every year or every two years, so actually, in terms of a life cycle cost-analysis, we are very competitive", Ion told Green Start-Up.

Solar power is one of the selling points of Driveco's charging stations. So far, the charging points network has around 5 megawatts worth of installed power, all operated within the stations themselves. Over the next few years, if it's a feasible move to do so, the French company takes into account using local energy storage, as well, to maximize the efficiency of the charging points, should enough EVs be on the road by then.

Normally, when you think of charging your EV at such sophisticated charging points, you expect to pay a hefty price, but Ion Leahu-Aluas told us the opposite.

"We have very competitive prices at our power stations. So, in terms of power delivered on our charging stations, you have a mix of powers. So, you have 22kW, 50kW and 150kW, because each driver doesn't have the same needs in terms of speed of charging the car", we learned.

For each power level, Driveco offers cheaper prices than the average price on the EV charging market. The company is able to do that, while delivering the increase in reliability and technology, by internalizing the supply of energy.

50.000 charging sessions per month. Every month

With around 50.000 drivers using Driveco's charging stations that many times in a month, it's no wonder that the company gained traction in the region. The company's database also reveals that there are some 70.000 unique users who charge their cars using Driveco's solution, which means a fairly high customer retention rate.

And more are expected to arise, as Ion told us that the team is still working on manufacturing new charging stations constantly to reach new places and new potential customers. The current rate of installing charging points is one station per day, so within a year, that's anywhere between 300 to 400 charging stations. Each station has 4-5 charging cords attached, which means that around 200.000 cables and connectors are deployed in a year for their respective battery-powered vehicle.

But it's not just cars. Planes need power, too

While not targeting the aviation segment for now, we learnt from Driveco's CEO that the company is also sponsoring a small, two-seater electric plane, as well. Thus, the company isn't afraid to explore other parts of the electromobility industry, especially since aviation is where Ion started his journey.

As for the small plane that is used by students who learn how to fly, its batteries are filled with Driveco's electricity and it so happens that the company actually makes flying the small aircraft cheaper than it would otherwise be. Each hour of flight is less than 100 euros, which is the cheapest hour of training flight in the whole department of Albi.

As far as 2023, Driveco plans to further expand in France, while also to install around 300 other charging stations that it is manufacturing this year. At the same time, the French charging station expert is looking at reaching as many Western European markets as possible by next year.