Electric vehicles won’t kill the gas station. They will redefine it.

Jonathan Levy spends a lot of time thinking about the future of the gas station. Or rather, how the future of car charging may have little to do with gas stations.

Levy is the Chief Commercial Officer of EVgo, one of the largest electric vehicle charging companies in the United States. The company and others like it are reinventing the way we get around, building a distributed network of charging infrastructure that isn’t always tied to the gas station model that has ruled America’s roads since the early 1900s. “We believe that by integrating charging into everyday life, you make it even easier to switch to electric,” Levy told Protocol.

EVgo has agreements with Whole Foods, Albertsons and Kroger to ensure that charging stations exist in places “where you’re going anyway,” Levy said. Competitors like Flo have partnered with utilities like ConEd to install chargers on city streets. The growing charging model relies on accessibility rather than speed – charging electric vehicles still takes longer than pumping gas – to make things more convenient for drivers.

At the same time, charging companies are also considering how to borrow some of the tricks of the centralized service station model to ensure a network that works for everyone, everywhere. This rapid technological upheaval also forces the owners of traditional service stations themselves to take on accounts, which will be forced to adapt or disappear.

Gas stations face huge threats from rising gas prices and increasing sales of electric cars. According to a recent forecast by Boston Consulting Group, up to 68% of new vehicles sold in the United States could be battery electric by 2035. This forecast was made before the introduction of the Energy Reduction Act. inflation of 2022, which would extend tax credits for electric vehicles. new vehicles and introduce those for used vehicles if they are adopted.

Other policies could still put pressure on service stations. In Los Angeles, a city as famous for its traffic as it is for its movie stars, politicians have proposed banning the construction of new gas stations. That would make it the second city in the country to institute a ban, following a March 2021 ban in Petaluma, a small town 40 miles north of San Francisco.

Policies to expand electric vehicle charging also tip the scales. The Biden administration is set to distribute $7.5 billion in funding to states to build charging infrastructure under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act. The administration has also set a goal for electric vehicles to account for 50% of new vehicle sales by 2030. Funding and increasing sales of electric vehicles could enable a radical reinvention of transportation. And charging technology may be the most malleable part of this process.

An EV station in the Bronx.Photo: Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu/Protocol

“Unlike the gas station, which has been repaired for about 100 years, the charging station emerges even from its earliest days as this flexible, changing type of building,” said Christopher Hawthorne, design director of Los Angeles and professor at USC. , where he hosts discussions about what the future of America’s second most populous city should look like.

In 2020, he hosted a public conversation where some city architects presented new design concepts for the gas station’s electrified future. Proposals included transforming gas stations into community meeting spaces, bicycle pavilions and even city parks where you can also charge your car.

The conversation is particularly important in Los Angeles, which has nearly 600 gas stations that will be impacted by Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2035 deadline requiring all new passenger cars and trucks sold in California to be zero-rated vehicles. emission. Allowing more service stations to develop, focused primarily on servicing internal combustion engine vehicles, could lead to business failure.

As distributed charging networks in parking lots and on city streets continue to grow, some companies are taking inspiration from and even partnering with gas stations. As it seeks new locations for its charging stations, EVgo this month announced a partnership with General Motors to build a network of 2,000 fast chargers at 500 Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers across the country. This would make traveling between states in an electric vehicle much easier than it is now. Earlier this year, Electrify America revealed plans for its own charging stations that look a lot like their counterparts selling gas. These stations would be located near places like malls – in case drivers want to run errands – and include lounges in case they just want to relax.

Continuing change in politics, competition and consumer attitudes is forcing groups like the National Association of Convenience Stores, whose members sell 80% of US gas, to adapt. According to NACS spokesman Jeff Leonard, that means continuing to expand, for example, in catering services and other offerings that will keep drivers busy.

“There aren’t many businesses that can survive by just selling fuel,” Leonard said.

But Leonard isn’t freaked out by the rise of electric vehicles. The death knell of the gas station is long gone. In 2021, Americans used 369 million gallons of gasoline per day. While new car sales are expected to swing heavily in favor of electric vehicles over the next decade, many traditional gas-powered cars will remain on the road. Research suggests it could take until 2050 for around 60% to 70% of all cars on the road to be electric – and that’s if the Biden administration’s plans are successful. (Again, this analysis predates the Inflation Reduction Act.)

“It will take some time to replace 280 million gasoline vehicles,” Leonard said. “We will get there with the future of electric vehicles, but it won’t take years, it will take decades.”

The electric vehicle charging industry also has important lessons to learn from the humble service station. Although gas stations have had negative environmental impacts on their neighborhoods, in some places — especially communities of color where other retailers are scarce — gas stations are an important part of the societal fabric. There are constant fears that the current high cost of electric vehicles will lead to the construction of charging infrastructure in the most affluent areas.

“Some gas stations have played an important community role, and we would be unwise to dismiss that role and get rid of gas stations too quickly,” Hawthorne told Protocol. The Biden administration, for its part, has pledged to ensure that 40% of federal climate and energy investments benefit disadvantaged communities.

This is a priority for Levy, as he ensures that EVgo’s charging stations are deployed in a way that is convenient for drivers, but also fair. “A lot of communities of color have been in food deserts or [been] redlined,” Levy said, referring to a racist loan practice. “If you just follow these places, you will also accidentally repeat these mistakes.”

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