Tesla’s first Supercharger station in Poland is at a gas station. The specific gas station was an Orlen station, and Orlen is a fairly large gas station brand here, so I wondered if Tesla was planning to roll out Superchargers at more Orlen stations across the country. I found out from talking with people here that Tesla does plan to install Superchargers at other Orlen stations across the country.
Some of the knocks on the idea of locating EV charging stations at gas stations have been that gas stations aren’t pleasant places, there’s not much to do at them for long periods of time, they aren’t necessarily the best spots for city-to-city driving, and … gas stations, really?
While the idea is routinely proposed, it is often quickly shot down, and Tesla’s decision to stay away from gas stations seemed to support the argument that gas stations weren’t the route to go.
However, they do have their benefits, and gas needn’t be a central part of their business model. After all, gas stations don’t really make money on gas — the profit comes from the junk food they sell.
I think there’s a trend in Europe to make gas stations more pleasant than they’ve historically been — with cafes, or even full restaurants, and more relaxation and shopping opportunities inside. In addition to this semi-attraction, I assume it’s also a bit more difficult for Tesla to find property in Europe where it can stick fast chargers, thus making the synergy with gas stations more powerful.
That’s not to say it’s easy finding locations for fast chargers in the USA — the difficulty of doing so in good locations has greatly delayed BMW’s plans for a faster rollout of fast chargers. Additionally, if gas stations put a bit of effort in, they could create nice places for EV drivers to chill out for 30 minutes.
So, it’s not entirely shocking to find out that Tesla is in talks with gas station & convenience store company Sheetz. Never heard of Sheetz? I don’t think I had, but that’s apparently because it operates in 6 states in the Midwest. Nonetheless, it has hundreds of stores and $7 billion in revenue, so it is a sizable initial gas station partner for Tesla in the US market.
All of that said, it’s not clear Tesla is actually interested in sticking Superchargers at these gas stations. A Tesla rep noted the company’s efforts to put its high-power charging stations at hotels, restaurants, and gas stations. So, perhaps this is simply another part of Tesla’s aim to put destination chargers at places all across the country, so people can charge their cars while in hotels, at restaurants, stopping to use the toilet or grab a snack, etc.
Steve Hanley over on Gas2 carries the line of thought further:
The current business model for gas stations will undergo a sea change. Today, it is all about getting customers in and out as quickly as possible. The stores generate much of their revenue from quick, point-of-sale purchases like coffee, cigarettes, and snacks. But that model is under pressure. The amount of gasoline pumped will decline about 20% in coming years, as cars with better gas mileage and more electric cars are added to the mix.
That’s according to John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, which was founded by the National Association of Convenience Stores. “Those kiosks that just sell gallons and smokes are going to have to change,” said Eichberger. “They’re going to lose gallons. Plain and simple, no way around it.”
He thinks the gas station of the future will look radically different. It will be more like a restaurant or highway rest stop than a convenience store. It will focus on more inviting interiors where customers can relax while their cars recharge. It will sell a selection of higher priced products like high end coffee and prepared foods. Tesla is driving the coming changes and wants to be part of the action, which is why it is talking with Sheetz.
I have a feeling gas stations will look for ways to become more attractive for longer visits, and will transition with the auto industry in time. Of course, with ~90% of charging done at home or work, there will be a lot less need for such places, so I also think we’ll see a dramatic shrinking of the market. Your thoughts?