Recharge, Rethink

ABB news of both varieties: power grids, EV stations

When you have 136,000 employees across 100 countries, I guess you grow to expect the good and the bad. Weathering the unexpected—and filtering negative outcomes—are probably woven into the company mantra. Heck, it’s sometimes even calculated to release one as a counterweight to the other. So goes the systematic approach to a giant like ABB.

*(Ed. Note: If you’re one of those people who wants the good news first, read this article upside-down)

First quarter financials are huge in dictating future business decisions. ABB’s most recent Q1 had its upside, but one area lacking performance was its electrical grids division. Enough, it seems, to warrant public demand from the company’s shareholders that the business structure be reconsidered. After gaining word of the division’s -0.2 point Op EBITA % drop prior to its release today, certain shareholders publicly criticized the company.

“ABB is too big, it is too complicated and the company would gain significantly by achieving more focus,” David Samra, portfolio manager at Artisan Partners, ABB’s fifth-largest shareholder with a 1.6 percent stake, told Reuters Tuesday.

“So far we have seen no evidence of an underlying improvement in power grids, nor in the company as a whole,” Samra said.

Critics say ABB should simplify by way of streamlining and divesting businesses, much like competitors Siemens and Honeywell are doing. Siemens floated its medical business in an IPO this year, while Honeywell has plans to spin off some of its divisions.

‘Power Grids’ is currently one of four ABB production divisions left standing after last year’s realignment. It includes the manufacturing of transformers, switchgear, and circuit breakers; maintenance services; turnkey systems and service for power transmission, distribution grids, and power plants. ABB’s other three businesses are electrification products (+1.1 points in Q1), robotics and motion (+0.5), and industrial automation (+0.4). A corporate division remains at the head of the company.

***

Don’t despair, ABBsolutists. When you have a global presence, a race car sponsorship, and a CEO named Ulrich Spiesshofer, there’s always good news afoot.

ABB announced Tuesday it was selected to supply its Terra HP charging stations as part of “the biggest electric vehicle infrastructure project to date in the United States.”

The chargers can refresh even the largest electric vehicle battery in under 15 minutes, according to a press release. They were selected for deployment by Electrify America, which plans to place hundreds of charging stations within and around 17 metropolitan areas and along multiple nationwide highway corridors.

Creating a national network of fast charging stations—the EV equivalent of fueling stations—is considered crucial for widespread adoption of electric cars in the United States.

“Electrify America wanted experienced partners to deploy high power charging technologies that equally serve every battery electric vehicles today, as well as the next generation of large batteries, and we’re pleased to have ABB as one of our key suppliers,” said Seth Cutler, Chief Engineer, Electrify America.  “These new charging systems are designed to provide an optimal driver experience – offering fast, convenient and reliable service whenever and wherever they need it.”

“We are proud to be chosen for this historic project to support a world-class EV charging network across the United States,” says Greg Scheu, President of ABB’s Americas region. “Our Terra HP systems will ensure that sustainable e-mobility is supported with industry leading, high power charging technology, and will remain so into the future.”

The ambitious effort looks to tailor to the expected EV boom in coming years. Nearly 200,000 EVs were sold in the U.S. in 2017. However, the country’s charging infrastructure hasn’t kept the pace required to spur mass adoption of electric transportation. Among some prospective consumers, “range anxiety’’ – wondering if they will find someplace to recharge their batteries during a road trip – continues to be a deterrent when it comes to electric vehicles.

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