Airport Retail + Services Will Be The Model For Future EV Mega-Charging Centers

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Gas stations are not the model of future EV charging centers.

Some of the designs or actual implementations of new/future EV charging stations, such as those from Tesla or Ionity, look nice, but in fact, they are incremental improvements rather than a leap forward. They are simply EV charging stations modeled mostly after gas station designs. But they miss the larger paradigm shift that EV charging brings to the mix.

The better model is the retail and services model that has become popular at airports around the world.

Charging Is A Different “Refueling” Paradigm

Gas stations are a place we go to spend typically about 5–8 minutes to fill our gas tank, or maybe a little longer if we use the restroom or buy a Slurpee or cup of coffee. But most often our goal at a gas station is to stop, fill up, aKwik-Trip-hot-dog-on-roller-grillnd get back on the road as quickly as possible. Speed, not enjoying the experience, is our goal. After all, does anyway enjoy going to the gas station, except of course for the delightful smell of gasoline, burnt coffee, and watching over-cooked hot dogs rolling on the warmer?

Because EV charging takes anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours, the mindset for EV drivers is to plan around the charging time to do something else while your EV charges. This includes shopping, eating at a restaurant, getting coffee, and more.

Mega-Charging Centers: Human & Vehicle Recharging

The model of the future may be mega-charging centers, with perhaps hundreds of charging stations that are built as combination vehicle and human recharging centers with restaurants, stores, entertainment, car detailing, personal care services, and more. 

Tesla’s Kettleman City SuperCharger center + lounge (between Northern and Southern California on Interstate 5) is a start in the right direction. But even it has the feeling of adding a lounge as a secondary thought to a gas station (with the pumps replaced by charging stations).

Tesla-Kettleman City-Supercharger

Instead, the future of these mega-charging centers will find that the amenities become the draw first and foremost for the humans and the charging stations are the secondary, albeit necessary, activity for the electric vehicles. The model will be based on the retail and services model that has become a huge business at airports around the globe.

Generation Research, a travel retail market research specialist, estimated that market’s value at $63.5 billion in 2014, and forecasts that it will grow to $85 billion in 2020. In Singapore, for example, sales at the Changi International Airport were $1.6 billion (US) in 2016.

Amenities & Services That Mega-Recharging Centers Will Include in the Future

These mega-recharging centers modeled after airports will of course have both quick-service and full-service restaurants, coffee shops, and juice bars. But other types of services and amenities that will form the foundation of future mega-recharging centers, especially those along long-distance highway routes will include:

Airport-like Lounges/Clubs: If you travel frequently by air, airline club lounges are an oasis from the masses in the terminal. Beyond the lounges operated by airlines, there are a growing number of independent lounges coming to many airports. These include, for example, Priority Pass, AirSpace Lounge (a new company), and American Express-owned The Centurion Lounge. Look for these and other operators to expand into the recharging center business and form partnerships with automakers and charging networks. Owners of luxury brand EVs may get complimentary access to these clubs, pay a discounted membership fee, or gain access with a status-level credit card.

Delta SkyClub New-York LGA

Car Detailing: While you wait, have your car washed, waxed, and detailed. Have your brakes checked, tire tread and air level checked, tires rotated, windshield washer fluid filled, wiper blades changed, etc. Look for major oil and auto repair businesses to enter this “spa for cars” market.

Auto/Energy Storage Showrooms & Test Drives: Tesla and Lincoln have already opened showrooms, often at upscale malls. Customers can view and sit in cars, talk to an associate, see accessories and options, and purchase branded gear. Lincoln, with its Experience Centers, has taken it up a notch and added demonstrations on candle-making, sushi and sake pairings, and even salsa dancing. Look to the automakers to open immersive showrooms to enhance their brands and educate customers on new models and features. Additionally, as many auto companies enter the energy storage business, look for short demonstrations of home energy products to become key aspects of these showrooms. Lastly, while your car is charging, why not take your family for a test drive in that new electric crossover you’ve been eyeing?

Lincoln Experience Center - cafe

Yoga and Stretching: While Reebok and the architecture/design firm of Gensler envisioned the reuse of gas stations along highways into fitness centers, I doubt most travelers will want to work up a sweat while their EV charges. But some stretching, yoga, and light weights — or even a walk on a treadmill or on a nice trail around the center — might re-energize tired drivers and passengers. Look for some fitness apparel companies like Nike and Reebok to open combo apparel stores and light exercise and education centers at these recharging centers.

reebok gensler network EV charging and fitness center
Reebok/Gensler future vision of The Network EC charging and fitness center

Personal Care: Look for chains located at many airports, like XpressSpa, to be popular destinations at recharging centers. After a 4-hour drive in a car, getting a neck, back, and/or foot massage sounds like a pretty attractive reward for yourself as your EV charges. Also, expect hair salons, manicure, pedicure, and other personal services.XpressSpa

Retail: Expect retailers like Amazon to open stores where you can browse and buy books, magazines and travel items as well as order items online and have them delivered to your home or travel destination. Also look to major retailers to locate small outlet locations at these centers.

Mini-Museums and Attraction Centers: Look for museums, theme parks, and other attractions to set up mini-museums and attraction centers designed to convert you to visiting their location. A few hours from Disneyland you stop in buy your tickets in advance and opt for a special VIP experience and then check out the Disney Cruises through a virtual reality tour. Outside of New York on I-95 you visit the Museum of Modern Art Museum store and mini-museum that has a few exhibits, books, posters, and possibly short classes in things like pottery making or drawing.

Activities for Kids: And what do the kids do? Look for arcades, indoor mini-golf, and “screen rooms” perhaps operated by companies like Netflix where people can plug in and watch an episode of their favorite TV show while waiting.Indoor mini-golf

Cooking Demonstrations and Takeaway: Watch cooking demonstrations, short classes on things like knife sharpening and how to make the perfect omelet. Then pick up meal kits that you can prepare (and use your newfound skills) when you reach your beachside timeshare resort destination.

Casinos: In markets where gambling is legal, don’t be surprised if mini-casinos pop up.

What types of amenities would most interest you or do you think I’ve missed?

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Loren McDonald

Loren writes about the factors driving adoption of electric vehicles and the opportunities and challenges the transition to EVs presents companies and entrepreneurs in the auto, utility, energy, retail and other industries. He provides market analysis, consulting, and marketing services to companies in the EV and EV charging industry. His research and analysis are published on CleanTechnica and his website.

Loren McDonald has 79 posts and counting. See all posts by Loren McDonald