The electric opportunity for traditional gas stations

Electric cars are coming. They will be here in one form or another in the next fews years. For the moment they are the preserve of a certain class of consumer with Teslas, Jaguars and now Porsches, but like all technology, it’s simply a matter of time before the technology is democratised to the level that is available for everyone.

I believe we’re close to that point and feel that the next 3-5 years will reveal a radical change in offers and buying habits of the average consumer.

But this creates a problem for the existing infrastructure and the current user base. Current owners of fossil fuel powered vehicles will still be in their millions over the world and the existing infrastructure will continue to cater to them as long as there is money to be had.

But is there an opportunity for existing infrastructure to take advantage of the new electric world ?

Looking at what’s happened so far, essentially only Tesla has taken the time, effort and money and built a large network of its Super Chargers for the benefit of its clients. These are often at locations where only the charger exists or at highway rest stops. I saw them in the UK at Motorway Service Stations, but they were often tucked away at the back of the parking. That is, we have a mix of jobs to be done; refuelling for both the human and the car.

Current service stations and gas stations offer both these services and and bundle many more for its clients. In fact most gas stations make their money not from gas, but these extra services with something like 60% of revenue on things other than gas, according to NACS.

Other chargers are coming online all the time, again, often in locations that are not linked to the gas stations; cinemas, mall car parks etc. With a growing amount of electric cars on the road there will be more demand on charge stations, which is where I believe there is opportunity for traditional gas stations.

Let’s look at the customer journey in a traditional car. The driver arrives at the pump and, depending on the type of station either gets out of the cat to pulp fuel or stays in the car as fuel is pumped for him by an attendant (a requirement in Oregon and New Jersey apparently). In the attendant scenario, the driver will pay the attendant and be on his way in a just a few minutes. In the self-service scenario the driver must enter the shop to pay for fuel.

The convenience afforded by the attendant results is lowering the surface of opportunity to cross-sell. It is, of possible to force the driver to enter the shop despite having had fuel pumped by an attendant, but we’re seeing more and more pumps with card readers directly on the pump, again for convenience.

In either case the operation takes just a few minutes to complete. Let’s call it 5 minutes.

Looking into the future, an electric vehicle will likely require a good 10 to 15 minutes to fast-charge to 80-85%, with probably more than 30 minutes for a 100% charge.

Newer generation chargers can charge enough for a few days or so in around 10 minutes. Making the experience more like a traditional fill stop, only slightly longer.

As a minimum, this represents 100% more time in which to accommodate both the vehicle and the driver, and around 300-600% more time if the car needs a longer charge. This is the opportunity to provide services and products that fill that gap for the driver. Food, beverages, video games, better shopping experiences, internet etc.

Obviously space is a premium and is particularly constrained for small stations but there is opportunity if the layout is rethought to accommodate cars parked closer together rather than the traditional line-up to access pumps.

Another opportunity, one that affects the buy-in price of the energy, is the use of solar power on the flat roofs of the stations. In a quick napkin calculation its possible to charge around 10 Renault Zoe’s high capacity battery (41KWh) to full capacity per day with a 100m2 roof.

Interesting to follow the evolution in front of us as more and more manufacturers release electric cars.

15 January 2019, F.W.I