February 7, 2022

What happens to gas stations when we no longer need gas?

When asked, “range fear” is the biggest hurdle for adoptees of electric cars. Drivers desperately don’t want to be stuck with a dead battery, far from home or a charging station, because they forgot to plug their EV in last night. Never mind that the average driver travels less than 40 miles a day — the primal fear of running out of power is still enough to spook them out of the market.

The truth is that current leading EVs can sport ranges of 400 or even 500 miles on a single charge, which represents a full day’s worth of non-stop road-tripping. The limiting factor for most drives becomes the human’s bladder long before the car’s battery.

That combination of anatomy and technology leads us to the question: what do gas stations look like when they don’t need to pump gas?

Pumping gas, even when filling the biggest tanks, takes just a couple minutes. Charging an EV’s batteries can easily take an additional 20, 30, or 40 minutes. What do you do with that time?

Many drivers currently do most of their charging where their cars live most of the time, parked at home or at work. (When you calculate out how much of a vehicle’s total capacity you actually use, a car is massively inefficient. But that’s a discussion for another day.) We’ve also seen chargers pop up at grocery stores, shopping malls, rest stops, and other destinations, allowing owners to top off while taking care of other business. Given that EV chargers aren’t much more than glorified electrical outlets, you don’t need all that massive storage and safety infrastructure that makes gas stations look like gas stations.

So, we might just not need gas stations. Maybe that land can be better used for housing, parks, or community services. But there’s still a legitimate use case, and enough demand, for at least some dedicated stations.

One of the largest gas station operators in the world, Parkland, thinks so too (makes sense), and they have recently unveiled concepts for stations of the future that embrace the limitation of charge time and turn it into a feature.

Credit: Electric Autonomy Canada via Fast Company

Some of these ideas are a little questionable in practice, but their plans call for stations with the usual suspects like stores and food vendors, as well as novel amenities like massage therapy, fitness studios, and meditative gardens. Will these dreams come to reality, especially when autonomous vehicles threaten the very idea of private car ownership and maintenance? Who knows.

But this is the type of thinking that helps shake us out of our existing model. Just because things are the way they are today, doesn’t mean that they have to be this way tomorrow.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, has a book coming out this fall, and works with some cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my book, it's coming out this fall.

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