The future of gas stations: Do EVs dismantle local pumps?
The answer is a lot more complicated than the number of EVs sold.
Brian CooleyEditor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and the Publicis HealthFront. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
ExpertiseAutomotive technology, smart home, digital health.Credentials
The future of gas stations will require the stations to look to the past. These gas stations won't have time travel at their disposal, but they will need to once again embrace the idea of "service stations" to ensure they remain relevant. Mind you, there are 150,000 of these stations across the US today.
But there are many paths forward for gas stations, largely centered on the idea of a refreshed basket of services. BCG suggests a few ways gas stations can be more in charge of their fate:
Add charging. This is the obvious move, but not as simple as it looks due to infrastructure needs and a big difference in lane time and throughput.
Go digital.Any Chipotle is a decade ahead of any gas station when it comes to being digital. Even something as simple as ordering things from the C store so they can be brought out to you at the pump could start repositioning gas stations.
Mobile fueling. Amazon can deliver to the trunk of your car; Can gas stations deliver to the gas cap? There are technical and regulatory hurdles, but if we learned anything in 2020, it's that delivery has an almost unlimited future.
Enhance the experience. Tedious, smelly gasoline fill-ups are a tepid draw. Flip that model so the overall set of services are the draw, of which liquid and electric refueling are just an important peripheral. Premium fast casual restaurants, an Amazon locker and return location, a dark kitchen for food delivery, or all three are just some ideas for a true "service station" that make sense on the real estate.
One option I'm not sanguine about is turning gas stations into EV battery-swap stations. The idea seems elegant and the most direct analog for a conventional fill-up, but both startup Better Place and later Tesla pulled the plug on efforts to have cars come in for a fresh battery exchange in minutes. It requires more harmony and standardization than is conceivable in the EV industry right now.