Cultural Consequences of Electric Car Charging
The cultural consequences of electric car charging have the potential to reshape the gas station experience in a profound way. Gasoline powered cars can be filled at a filling station in a few minutes and with the exception of full service stations the refueling requires us to remain at our car should the automatic shut-off fail or should it be a little overactive. Currently charging an electric car takes hours so it’s done while we sleep or while we work but all of that is going to change.
A Fast Charging Future
We’re moving towards a fast charging future, a future that will be here before we know it. News broke today of an Israeli startup, StoreDot, that has developed an electric car battery system which can fully recharge in 5 minutes. They expect it to be commercially available within 3 years. Even if StoreDot fails or falters it won’t be long before we reach a recharge time measured in single digit or low double digit minutes. Tesla’s batteries at their fastest take over an hour to recharge fully.
The Evolution of Service Stations
The evolution of service stations is an interesting one. They started as little more than a space to keep the full service attendants of old out of the weather between customers slapped onto the side of service garages. For years they slowly changed as full service gave way to self service into cramped tiny spaces full to the ceiling of candy bars and cigarettes with hardly enough room for the register next to the caffeine pills and scratch off lottery tickets with their filthy single toilet bathrooms. Today they are mini grocery stores and fast food restaurants that are, in certain rural or remote villages, the gathering spot for teenagers and the source for community gossip.
Despite their evolution today many visitors never walk through their doors. As of 2012 73% of gas station customers pay at the pump, fill their tank, and go on their way without ever leaving the pump. As cigarette smoking and soda consumption has decreased so has the need to ever go inside the shop at the gas station. Being tied to our pump that is moving flammable volatile liquid into our car keeps us at the pump but when the future of fast charging arrives we’ll be able to leave the pump. In fact the pump will probably leave the pump.
Leaving The Pump
Gradually as fast charging electric cars become the norm we’ll see the gas pump relegated to where the kerosene pump is. It will be an anomaly that only classic car owners know what to do with. In the place of the island which is central to the service station experience now the shop will become centrally located. It will be surrounded with parking spaces that feature either in ground fast charging or electric plugs depending on how fast all of those technologies move and when they move together.
This centering of the store will upend how we see our visits to them. Perhaps we won’t even have service stations and charging will be ubiquitous, at the grocery store, at work, at red lights, but America is still a capitalist society and I don’t suspect that the capitalists will let us go that easily. Even if they’re at the grocery store they’ll likely still require some sort of payment or sign-in so we can be charged for the electricity we’re consuming. There will still need to be some interaction and not everyone is going to want to drive to the big local mega-walmart for a 5 minute recharge. They’re far more likely to want a closer and less busy option on a Sunday afternoon.
This leaves us with the chance to completely rethink service station design, or rather leaves the corporate architects who design service stations that chance. In fact it forces them to rethink the whole concept. The design challenge is how to get people to not just climb back into their cars with their phones or in-car entertainment systems and get them to come into the shop and buy more stuff? I don’t know the answer but I can tell you that I’ll probably spend the next few hours thinking about it.