How Tesla and EV charging networks threaten the future of gas stations

Slowly but surely, electric cars and trucks are taking over American highways. The White House aims for half of new cars sold in the United States to become electric vehicles by 2030, and auto giants such as General Motors and Volvo want them to become all-electric cars in a similar timeframe. As utility companies accelerate the increase in the number of charging stations – a critical step in the transition of electric vehicles – the future of the gas station is in doubt.

Right now, gas stations are a regular part of American life, with drivers going daily or weekly to fill up a snack and sometimes just grab a snack. But the fuel pump as well as the convenience store concept has little to offer the country’s small but growing electric car owners.

While some gas stations have taken the leap and installed charging outlets next to their pumps, people tend to do the bulk of charging electric cars at home. And because electric vehicle chargers can be installed almost anywhere connected to the power grid—they’re now available in office garages and rest areas, and will soon be in some Starbucks parking lots—the gas station is becoming increasingly unnecessary for some Americans.

“It’s nice that you’re not locked up at a gas station,” says Rob Barrosa, director of sales and marketing for Electrify America, Volkswagen’s electric vehicle charging network. “How do we get the power to where we want it? This is a much easier problem to solve than having to deal with huge huge gas tanks that you have to bury in the ground.”

This is troubling news if you are in the gas station business. Boston Consulting Group analysts estimate that if electric vehicles take off, as much as 80 percent of the retail fuel market could become unprofitable by 2035. If demand for gasoline disappears completely, many of the more than 100,000 stations across The country will be in danger of going out of business. If they cannot sell the fuel, gas stations will struggle to make money because people usually buy products from their convenience stores while they are filling up.

So if these companies are to survive, they have to start reinventing themselves for a world beyond gas. This can be difficult to do, or even impossible. Installing electric vehicle chargers at existing gas station locations can be very expensive. Meanwhile, such sites may become irrelevant as car manufacturers, charging station companies, and the government’s race to build an entirely new network of electric chargers.

Some are already imagining what the post-gas station future will look like. It could be as simple as electrified parking spaces placed across town, or lead to futuristic road stations where people can go to the gym or take a walk in the park while charging their electric cars. One thing is for sure, though: Electric vehicles are bound to change our built environment.

How to modify a gas station for electric cars

Currently, gas stations act as intermediaries between the fossil fuel industry and drivers. Oil companies need a place where they can easily distribute their products to customers, and drivers need a convenient and reliable place to fill their gas tanks. And again, gas stations are not only in the business of selling gas and diesel. They also earn money by selling food, alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery tickets, among other things. Some gas stations offer mechanical services; Some of them have restaurants inside.

To modify this business model for the age of electric vehicles, some gas stations are now installing Level 3 chargers, which can provide up to 20 miles of range per minute, along with vintage pumps and convenience stores. Some of these quick chargers make charging electric vehicles almost as fast as filling a gas tank the old-fashioned way, and they’re much faster than people usually use at home. Many gas station owners who have or install Level 3 chargers have told Recode that their goal is to become “fuel neutral” and to attract electric vehicle drivers as well as those with gas-powered vehicles.

Charging an electric car is often as simple as parking it.
AFP via Getty Images

But for many gas stations, the cost of an electric vehicle charger outweighs the benefits. The charger itself can cost tens of thousands of dollars, which is a tough cost for a small business. The total cost can be much more, since installation often involves digging through the asphalt and laying electrical wires, and sometimes gas stations also need to purchase transformers to boost the overall electrical capacity of their sites. Chris Bamburi, who operates several gas stations in California, told Recode that building four electric vehicle chargers at one of its locations would have cost about half a million dollars if the government and utility programs had not covered about 90 percent of the bill.

The biggest challenge is that gas stations are already facing stiff competition from other generic electric vehicle chargers. Data collected by the Department of Energy shows that among the public charger sites fully tracked by the agency, there are currently more public chargers located in hotels, hotels, malls and government buildings than those in gas stations and convenience stores. This is a limited picture of the country’s charging network, and it doesn’t include the large number of chargers built by private companies like Blink, Electrify America, and Chargepoint. These companies also seem to prefer installing these chargers in places with grid-connected parking lots, where electric vehicle drivers can find something to do while charging, such as going to a grocery store or restaurant.

The struggle for the future of shipping

For a number of reasons, the government really wants to convince people that electric vehicles are as easy to use – and can go as far – as gas vehicles, so they are building a large number of charging stations in convenient locations. To speed up that effort, the White House plans to spend $5 billion as part of a goal to build more than 500,000 public chargers across the country by the end of the decade. This money will be distributed between states, and the hope is that eventually there will be at least chargers every 50 miles on the interstate highway system. Meanwhile, local and state governments provide grants to companies that install chargers on their premises.

Gas stations aren’t entirely enthusiastic about the government’s efforts to put electric vehicle chargers anywhere and everywhere. In Georgia, where many automakers want to build new plants focused on electric vehicles, gas station business groups are advocating legislation that would limit the state energy authority’s potential role in charging electric vehicles. Nationally, lobbying groups representing the gas station and convenience store industries have backed away from a proposal in Congress to build electric chargers at public highway rest stations because, they argue, it would undermine the ability of gas stations to compete.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle for gas stations: Charging an electric car is often as simple as parking it. Many electric vehicle owners buy chargers that plug into a standard home wall outlet just like a laptop or phone, and this virtually eliminates the need for frequent refueling trips. Level 1 chargers are usually less expensive and take a few hours to fully recharge the battery, which is perfectly acceptable for charging the car overnight. And since the average electric car can travel 260 miles on a single charge, most people only need to plug their cars in once a day.

Electrify America is opening luxury charging centers in California and New York, and conceptualizations show they could include lounges and sunshades.

Therefore, even if gas stations install fast chargers, people who travel long distances may be the main customers. This situation has already begun in Norway, where about 90 percent of new cars sold are now electric or hybrid. While gas stations have moved quickly to install charging ports, many electric vehicle drivers in Norway visit only monthly.

The advent of electric vehicles could in fact lead to a new generation of stopovers. Some private companies, for example, open their luxury destinations with multiple charging stations. Electrify America plans to open a series of flagship travel lounges focused on electric vehicles with solar canopies and event spaces that can offer valet parking and curbside delivery services in California and New York later this year. Automakers are also experimenting with the idea of ​​premium charging stations. In California, Tesla has already opened a charging center for its cars that includes a lounge, espresso bar, and free Wi-Fi. Porsche and Audi are developing similar plant plans for their own.

None of this is necessarily surprising. New innovations often render old technology obsolete. After all, the phasing out of horse travel also meant the demise of the horse-drawn carriage industry and the reallocation of stables. Now, after a century of building a complex infrastructure around gas-powered vehicles, another shift appears inevitable. This means that electric vehicles are not only changing the type of cars people drive, but also where they take them.

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