Alfie Toh (47), Darren Tan (46) and KM (45) are all trained engineers, and have been in the auto industry for almost all their career lives.
The three of them first crossed paths 18 years ago through work. KM was a young executive in the automotive industry then, and Alfie and Darren — founders of Mach Accessories — had approached him to propose their vacuum-molding technology for fully customised accessories to keep minimum order quantities (MOQs) low.
Besides Mach, Darren and Alfie also helm a few other companies, and all three of them have separately invested in several startups too.
Their working relationship soon blossomed into an eventual business partnership together, when they co-founded Power Up Tech (P.UP), which offers Singapore’s first mobile EV charging service.
Developing a “portable powerbank” for EVs
Things were getting a tad staid as this industry was one of the last to be disrupted in any significant way. So when electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous driving came into its current accelerated phase, we were very excited [and] each kept our eyes open for opportunities.
I had just started driving an EV and came into contact with many owners across various countries. All of us said the same things: the vehicles were great, but the range and charging was really a pain. It reminded me very much of the feeling we had when we got our first smartphones.
– KM, co-founder of P.UP
He mulled over these pain points for a few weeks and finally called upon both Alfie and Darren to build “portable power banks”, but for EVs. The two of them thought that it was a brilliant idea, and nine months later, the first prototype arrived in Singapore.
“They had used Mach’s resources to incubate and develop the idea, as well as run the research and development. I immediately booked a flight back to Singapore and we set up P.UP,” elaborated KM.
P.UP’s goal is to “supercharge the EV lifestyle” by removing all tethers to both charging as well as ownership.
As an EV owner himself, KM understands firsthand the woes of EV charging. He finds it a pity that EV owners only get to use their vehicle for only half the time — “the other half, you need to go look for charging stations, queue for them, wait for your charging to finish et cetera.”
“This is a constant challenge, especially if you live in a city-state like Singapore, where only five per cent of households are lucky enough to stay in landed properties where they can install a personal charger,” he said.
He also noted that this gap between the number of EVs and the availability of charging will always exist in high-density cities, where land is extremely precious and existing infrastructure limits the free deployment of chargers.
“A good example is the deployment of slow chargers, small footprint, and not expensive to deploy. However, the land on which the vehicle needs to be parked for a minimum of seven hours for the car to be fully charged is extremely expensive.”
“That’s why we came up with mobile charging — not only to enable consumers, but to lessen the burden on our government, by extending the coverage and availability of charging to every corner of the island.”
How does it work?
In essence, P.UP provides power on demand pretty much anytime and anywhere.
On its website, it stated that their service is available in Singapore from Monday to Saturday, between 9am to 9pm, and booking is required at least a day in advance.
“Just contact us and we will go to you wherever you are. Simple as that. The only restriction is to have your vehicle parked in a proper parking space for safety reasons,” explained KM.
All our P.Uppies (their affectionate term for their EV mobile charging transport) are fully electric, including the carrier. We come in various shapes and sizes, but the common one we are using in Singapore now is our van type.
All P.UPpies are equipped with some of the fastest DC chargers, with an average charging time of 30 to 45 minutes [for up to] 80 per cent [charge].
– KM, co-founder of P.UP
Similar to mobile plans offered by telcos, P.UP also offers various plans to suit different lifestyles and driving usage.
For its value packages, they charge S$0.54 per kWh — the cost per kWh is similar to the charges at commercial rapid charging stations across Singapore.
“With P.UP, EV owners have no trade-offs. They do not pay a single cent more compared to public commercial fixed chargers, [and] we are as fast or faster than any commercial fixed chargers. But the difference is we go to you, wherever you are, and whenever you needs us,” added KM.
They’re working with NEVC to build a framework of standards
When P.UP first started its pilot trial, customers were curious and skeptical about their business offering, with many questioning its safety and effectiveness.
“Two months into the trials, we were pleasantly surprised at the response. We had not done any marketing and word-of-mouth [about P.UP] had rapidly spread,” shared KM.
“When we finally launched in June, the response was so good that we had to deliberately slow things down so that our equipment ramp up could keep up.”
In particular, he recounted one heartening feedback from a customer, who is an active Grab driver. Due to her high mileage, she engages P.UP’s services everyday and thanks to them, she is able to save two hours everyday because she didn’t have to look for charging points.
Despite the positive response from consumers, the startup did not have an easy time rolling out their service, especially since they are a pioneer in this space.
The main challenge remains the lack of proper standard regulating mobile charging in Singapore, thus causing a certain degree of insecurity, especially among potential corporate customers. This is mainly due to the relatively small size of the Singapore market and the fact that P.UP is the only one in Singapore to have a full working model of this service.
– KM, co-founder of P.UP
As such, P.UP proactively engaged overseas labs to certify all their chargers based on International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards although it was not required.
In fact, it is currently engaging with National Electric Vehicle Centre (NEVC) — set up under the Land Transport Authority — to share the certifications they have obtained, and work with the labs in Singapore to build a framework of mobile EV charging standards.
As P.UP works closely with NEVC to help put Singapore ahead of the world in EV mobile charging, KM is confident that Singapore can, and should be, the “template and standard” for EV solutions and business models, especially for ultra-high density cities.
Another key business challenge for P.Up was COVID-19, which caused delays in equipment development and production.
“Till now, we are rushing deliveries of our P.UPpies so that we can serve more customers,” said KM.
The “Uber of EV services”
According to KM, P.UP has received “a lot of attention” from potential partners in other Asian countries, which has fuelled their plans to expand regionally. In line with this expansion plan, the startup is preparing for Series A funding sometime next year so that they have enough capital to support the expansion.
So far, funding has not been an issue for the startup as the three co-founders had enough cash to support the business. Furthermore, based on Mach’s track record and their business reputations, they could secure enough commercial funding for P.UP to smoothly expand operations in Singapore.
“In terms of operational margins, we are already in the black,” revealed KM.
Closer to home, P.UP has also received great interest from local condominiums and is currently in the midst of drawing up proposals for them to see how they can best allow condo residents to conveniently charge their EVs.
“It doesn’t need to be inside the condominium [premises] — as long as the user is a [condo] resident, he or she will have access to our EV charging services at the special rates that have been agreed upon.”
While KM admits that this is a “new area” for them, he is confident that they can help alleviate EV charging concerns for many condo residents. After all, the biggest draw about P.UP’s service is that it does not require users to install anything.
We believe that EV owners should have a better lifestyle than internal combustion engine (ICE) drivers. They should focus on enjoying their vehicles fully without having to devote time specifically for charging and other ownership chores. P.UP exists to enable that.
For P.UP, [EV] mobile charging is [only] our first step. … Our mobile P.UPpies not only ensure that your EV has enough juice, but in the future, we will be your “butler” for all other mundane chores normal owners need to perform for the cars. … We will be the ‘Uber of EV services’ for owners.”
– KM, co-founder of P.UP
Featured Image Credit: Power Up Tech