Out and about in the petrol retailing world and it’s not long before the conversation turns to electric vehicle charging. It’s clearly top of mind for the sector, although no one is completely sure what to do about it. Some retailers are boldly leasing off car parking spaces to charging equipment suppliers for 15 years, as they gain a foothold in the market, as well as an income. Decision made they’ve future-proofed their business. Many are more wary of such a commitment that could complicate matters in the future should they want to sell their sites. Others are hanging back to see what happens. In a world of fast-moving technological developments, when is the right time to invest? How soon will any charging equipment become slow and outdated? It’s the same for motorists, and when you look at the sales figures (News Extra, page 10), despite all the noise, claims of electric vehicle sales reaching a ’tipping point’ are rather far fetched.
It’s all a bit of a gamble, as no one is really quite sure what’s in store in terms of future fuels. As the new boss at Shell, Bernie Williamson, says, "it’s clearly unclear" (Industry Insight, page 24). Shell’s strategy is to invest in all types of future fuels technology, to gain experience across a range of options. At the company’s recent annual gathering Shell’s dealer manager, Andrew Braxton, offered a glimmer of the potential opportunity for forecourts through his own experience of driving a hybrid vehicle. He found he stopped more often to refuel, as the tank is much smaller than on a traditional vehicle and he rarely ’plugged in’ to recharge, letting the engine do it.
In fact much of the vision of a future forecourt seems to be a place to eat, drink and generally pass the time. A recent visit to Dublin revealed great examples of that.
Another element that could play into the hands of the traditional forecourt is the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. While there are concerns over the costs and so on, the Transport Minister rejected calls to require other public facilities, such as car parks, to provide electric charging. He said it would be ’more appropriate’ to mandate provision at sites that are already providing refuelling services. Quite right.