For as long as internal combustion engines have been a part of our daily lives, petrol stations have been part of our landscape. It didn’t take long for the owners of these stations to realize that they could sell more than just petrol. The service station concept was quickly developed, offering oil changes, car washes, tires, and batteries. Eventually, station owners realized they could provide even more convenience to customers by providing food, drinks, and even groceries. The first gas station “convenience store” was opened in 1927 in Dallas, Texas, USA, eventually becoming the American favorite, 7-Eleven. But all of these concepts were based around petrol refueling, which is a relatively fast process. That meant that all of the offerings were intended to be quick as well. Now, things are changing.
In March of this year, the market share in Germany for plug-in electric cars hit 9.2% according to auto registrations. Following the current trends, it won’t be long before we need fewer petrol stations and more electric charging stations. There are currently not nearly enough public charging outlets available, and many of them are often blocked. In the inner cities, a lot of electric car owners will not be able to charge at home. This is a perfect environment for businesses that look and feel like petrol stations but replace pumps with 150kW ultra-fast chargers.
Even with the fastest possible charging speeds, these new “petrol” stations will need to move from a fast and convenient business model to something different. To be competitive and draw customers, these stations will need to have something for customers to do while waiting the 30 minutes to an hour for their cars to fully charge. Just like innovation and experimentation quickly took hold with petrol stations, charging station owners have a chance to create something new. What complementary services can these businesses offer? With the lower level of maintenance required for electric cars, it won’t likely be auto service oriented. It may be people-oriented.
Perhaps while waiting, customers could pick up their packages from Amazon lockers, or maybe enjoy an espresso from an onsite barista. With remote work becoming more the norm, even short-term co-working spaces could allow people to work, video conference, or arrange meetings all while topping off their vehicle. Maybe people will just be looking for a chance to relax, sit in a comfortable chair, read, or catch up on the news. More than likely, some creative entrepreneur will think of something that hasn’t yet occured to the rest of us.
Will these additional offerings be profit centers of their own as with current petrol station convenience stores? Or, will revenue from charging will make it worth drawing as many customers as possible. The answer is likely in between or something different altogether. One way or another, as our cars move from internal combustion to plug-in electric, look for our landscape to change as well.
Petrol stations have been vital for the development of private mobility in the last century, charging stations might become the same for this century. What do you think?