Tuesday morning’s “EV 101: What is EV/EV Charging and Why It’s Important” was the first of a three-part series of educational sessions tackling electric vehicle charging and decarbonization of vehicle emissions.
Moderated by NACS EV Liaison Karl Doenges, the session addressed how quickly the EV market will blossom, how convenience stores can use vehicle charging to capture those drivers and why the industry is in a strong position to do so.
John Gartner, senior director of transparency and insights with the Center for Sustainable Energy, said the electric vehicle market is accelerating. For the first time, he said, plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) have surpassed 4% of new U.S. vehicle sales.
“A lot of this growth is being driven by the vehicles themselves,” Gartner said. “… What’s really going to be disruptive is the new EVs in the electric pickup category.” While the travel range is improving for EVs – some have a range of 300 miles, outpacing some internal combustion vehicles (ICE) – the vehicles themselves are now equal or better to ICE vehicles.
National Car Charging CEO Jim Burness said the trend now for manufacturers is to spend a whole lot more on research and development for EVs and less on fossil fuel engines. Automakers, he said, are aggressively planning a 100% carbon-free future.
As the technology advances and becomes less expensive, competitive pressure will continue to increase from additional exclusive EV makers. Even General Motors is investing in EVs, adding the fully electric nameplate Brightdrop, its first new division since Saturn. China installed more vehicle chargers in one month than the U.S. has in total.
As Burness tells it, the writing is on the wall. “An electric car is sold every six seconds,” he observed. While 80% of EVs are charged at home, he said, that will change. As EV prices drop, those without their own driveway will be in the market and need to charge away from home.
Convenience Retail’s Silver Lining
For convenience retail, there is a silver lining. First, EV drivers spend more at retail when charging, Burness said. Smaller footprint convenience stores – without room for pumps – will be able to fit chargers at those small locations. He recommends c-stores control the overall in-store experience to attract this new market as well as offset the loss of fossil fuel sales.
Blink Charging’s Executive Sales Manager Ryan Durbiano ran down the different types of charging methods, with the easiest (home plug-in) being the least effective and DC fast chargers the quickest (and most expensive to install).
The answer for convenience stores may be the Level 2 chargers, with typical installation costs from $5,000 to $15,000 per unit. They allow vehicles to “top off” at 40-65 miles of juice per hour of charge time. For folks tooling around town, that may be the market to capture.
The next sessions in the series, “EV 201” and “EV 301,” follow on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Another fuel session – “Disappearing Gallons: Cause & Effect” – explored the multiple factors that will all contribute to the mix of approaching zero carbon emissions. While EV charging is and has been the darling of the media and governments, the session presented the multiple perspectives that too many policy makers seem to overlook.
This turned to be a highly insightful discussion between moderator Keith Reid, editor of Fuels Market News, and Fuels Institute President John Eichberger.
Eichenberger stressed that governments putting most or all of their eggs into one carbon-neutral basket is an unwise course. There are opportunities to decarbonize outside of EVs, Reid and Eichberger pointed out. Efficiency requirements will lower fuel demand and lead to more efficient liquid fuel engines.
By underestimating other options like biofuels, improving combustion engine and other technologies that will prove useful over what will be a long vehicle fuels runway, when the disadvantages of electric battery cells and other environmental impacts not yet on the radar come to light. At that point, reversing course on EVs could be costly for the entire economy.
“We’re so focused on electrification that we’re not asking these other questions,” said Eichberger. “What about the ‘what ifs’?”
Not many decision makers are asking about the unintended consequences of the so-called EV revolution. EVs have fewer parts. How hard will the auto parts and repair industry be hit? EVs use less labor to assemble. How hard will auto workers and organized labor be hit? The solution can’t be, Eichberger said, to decarbonize at any cost.
Cross Channel Competitors
Turning from the future of fuels and electric charging, panelists Nik Modi, managing director of RBC Capital Markets, and Melisse Sullivan, who leads the Retail Consulting team at consumer insights analyst Numerator, discussed how c-stores can adjust to recent retail disruption in a session titled “Why Cross Channel Competitors Are Winning Trips.”
Modi ran through a litany of trends that are shaking up foodservice and consumer-packaged goods (CPG) retail, from frictionless checkout to autonomous delivery vehicles to the evolution of data that is driving high-tech devices providing instant feedback on consumers.
Modi spoke of a pill recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that contains an edible microchip that monitors a patient’s medication dosage needs. He cited Samsung’s recent patent of augmented reality contact lenses that present digital choices visible only to the wearer.
Driverless delivery vehicles, Modi said, are already deployed in some cities, delivering convenience, grocery and prepared food items to customers who unlock the vehicle storage area via facial recognition software. Modi cited the partnership of Walgreen’s and Kroger, each putting a smaller version of the other in a standard store.
Sullivan picked up there, providing insights and strategies for convenience retailers through partnerships with other retailers once considered competitors. Why? Because many consumers don’t see the boundaries between retail channels. She cited Numerator data that showed even c-stores finished fourth in a survey of shoppers asked which they consider if needing a quick and easy way to get everyday items.
The pandemic, Sullivan said, has rewritten the definition of “convenience.” Gopuff is now delivering food. DoorDash is competing with Drizly for alcohol delivery consumers. Kroger is teaming with Instacart. Aldi is testing checkout-free supermarkets.
When asked to name their favorite convenience store, 15% of consumers named a mass retailer, 11% a grocer and 10% a drug store. The cross channel confusion can hurt c-stores – or, Sullivan illustrated, help them.
Her solutions include improving selection of in-the-go, over-the-counter medical products; add Mexican heritage brands to cater to that growing demographic; carry more pet products; rely less on gameday football promotions. All of these actions are based on the changes in convenience shopper demographics emerging from COVID-19.
And while those solutions aim to capture the new c-store shopper, Sullivan advised to not forget traditional guests. They’re still a large part of the convenience shopper base.