The ink has barely dried on the infrastructure bill when along comes the EV charging company EVgo with two huge new deals to expand the fast-charging station network in the US. Too bad for gasmobiles! The latest gas price spike will tempt more car buyers to consider dipping a toe into EV territory, and the convenience of EV charging could tip the balance.
EV Charging Vs. Gas Stations
Back in 2013, CleanTechnica took a look at a trend that should put gas-powered car owners on high alert. The number of gas stations in the US was shrinking dramatically, which means that some drivers have to go farther out of their way to gas up. Consolidating more pumps at fewer stations could help reduce wait times at the pump, but that would be offset by the extra time it takes to reach the station.
The numbers are pretty dramatic. There were 200,000 gas stations in the US in 1994. The number dropped to 168,000 in 2011. In 2004, just a few years before the EV revolution got under way, drivers had less than 160,00 stations to choose from.
Some of the loss occurred as pricey urban real estate pushed gas stations out of city centers. We’re guessing that some of the loss also occurred when rural gas stations fell by the wayside as the interstate highway system continued to build out through the 1990s and beyond.
Either way, the trend has continued. The American Petroleum Institute currently refers to 150,000 stations, the vast majority of which are hooked up with convenience stores.
There’s that convenience thing again! The convenience store relationship has been supporting gas stations for years, but it, too, may evaporate as EV owners get used to the convenience of charging up at home. Filing up on gasoline and beef jerky (raises hand) at the same time is convenient, but using your home EV charger in the evening while relaxing in front of the TV with a nice hot meal and an alcoholic beverage is also convenient.
Then there’s workplace charging, which is more convenient than going out of your way to the gas station when you’re late for work.
More & Better EV Charging Stations
In another interesting twist, the API notes that only 5% of gas stations are owned outright by oil companies. The rest are branded stations, which provides the property owner with plenty of wiggle room to install EV charging stations.
Even the oil companies are getting into the act — well, at least some of them. Shell, for example, appears to be aware that filling up with gas needs to be more convenient in order to compete with EV charging, especially in the growing area of vehicle fleets. In 2018 it introduced a sort of rolling gas station model called TapUp. Basically a tanker truck tricked out with gas pumps, TapUp brings gas to wherever it is needed.
Shell is not hedging its bets, though. The company has also been promoting its Recharge EV charging station network, most recently in the form of a partnership with Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes-Benz already has its own EV charging network in hand, which probably helped motivate Shell to get in on the action, and it is far from the only legacy automaker to put its muscle to work in the charging station area.
GM is a good example. Under the leadership of CEO Mary Barra, the company has been busy supporting the renewable energy transition while building out the EV charging network, too.
GM & EVgo Push The Electric Vehicle Revolution
The sticky wicket in all this is the time it takes to charge up an electric vehicle, compared to filling up with gas. That is becoming less of an obstacle as EV battery technology and charging station technology both mature.
Last year GM hooked up with EVgo for a new charging station deal to the tune of 2,750 fast-charging stations with 100% renewable energy, and the two companies have just announced that another 500 fast-charging stations will join the network. The plan now involves building 3,250 new EV charging stations through 2025.
In yet another warning sign to gas stakeholders, the plan also involves extending the fast-charging network into another 12 metropolitan markets, for a total of 52.
Also of interest is the growth of the network in states where the political environment is generally not amenable to action on climate change.
“Stations that are part of the program are now live in eight states, including in Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado and North Carolina,” explains EVgo. “The joint program will further accelerate widespread EV adoption and increase public access to charging, including in future markets in Alabama, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas.”
That’s quite a list, politically speaking. However, when you dig into the weeds, you find Texas leading the nation’s charge into renewable energy and partnering with NREL on a global charging initiative. Activity is also shaping up in Kentucky as part of Ford’s ambitious new EV manufacturing plan.
Automakers Are Hearting EV Charging More And More
The relationship between automakers and the EV charging network is a mutual benefit one. Despite the ravages of COVID-19, urban life and the multi-family housing trend are pushing forward relentlessly. If car makers want to make car-buying more accessible for that population, they need to do something about EV charging station access.
EVgo notes that fast-charging technology makes the EV experience more accessible to network “drivers who live in multi-unit dwellings, rent their homes and can’t install chargers, or might not otherwise have access to home or workplace charging.”
GM is also pitching another side of the market with a newly announced plan to fill in some of the gaps left behind when local and rural gas stations evaporated.
In a particularly interesting twist, GM is going to leverage its dealer network to build out the Level 2 charging station network in areas where access to fast-charging is not as much of an imperative, including the growing number of urban gas station “deserts.”
The plan calls for dealers to support the construction of new charging stations at key locations in their communities, including workplaces, multi-unit dwellings, sports and entertainment venues and college and universities, among others. The new community EV charging stations will be available to anyone with a vehicle, not just GM customers.
If that doesn’t sound huge, consider that GM estimates that almost 90% of the US population lives within 10 miles of a GM dealer. They are looking at a total of up to 40,000 new Level 2 chargers under the plan.
Last Gasp For Oil & Gas
Meanwhile, the current gas price spike has motivated the ride sharing industry to step up its transition to electric vehicles. EVgo has a hand in that trend, too.
Last week EVgo announced that its existing EV charging program for Uber drivers will expand to accommodate discounts and pricing based on their Uber status. The expanded program will retain the existing access to the EVgo member rate for all Uber drivers, without monthly fees.
“With nearly one million rideshare vehicles on the road, electrification of rideshare provides a significant opportunity to add high-utilization drivers to EVgo’s network,” EVgo enthuses. The company has the numbers to back it up:
“Rideshare drivers often charge multiple times per day. A recent EVgo survey of drivers in the EVgo program, indicates that approximately 34% of drivers drive 400 to 800 miles each week and another 47% drive more than 800 miles each week and rely heavily on public fast charging. Conveniently located in high ridership urban areas, EVgo’s fast chargers enable drivers without access to at-home charging to charge in between Uber trips.”
Zooming out to take a look at the big picture, everybody wants to blame the President of the United States for the current gas price spike. That’s a lot like blaming your high school principal for the weather. Nevertheless, public opinion is always going to seek the handiest villain, and there is no better spot to aim your wrath than at the office of the most powerful elected official on the planet.
The expert consensus is that gas prices will fall back next year as supply catches up with demand, but by then it will be too late for oil stakeholders. In some instances the lifetime cost of owning an EV is already on parity with comparable gasmobiles, and new EV players like Vietnam’s Vinfast are pushing the up-front price point down to new lows.
The downward movement is going to be especially interesting in the area of sedans. Most major auto companies are pivoting into SUVs and crossovers, but China’s Xpeng is betting on super-affordable sedans to lure the elusive next generation of EV buyers, so keep an eye on that.
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Photo: EV fast charging stations courtesy of EVgo.