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Electric Vehicles and ‘Dwell Time’ Are Transforming the Road

someone dealing with extended customer dwell times

Slowly, some Americans are embracing electric vehicles. During the first half of 2023, nearly 600,000 EVs sold in the U.S. representing a 47% increase from the year previously. But with these changes in vehicles come additional needs and consumer behaviors. One of the most noted ones relates to fuel, or in this case, a need for fast-charging electricity stations. In order for drivers to take long trips, such pitstops are essential. And at the same time, such stations must be able to accommodate extended customer dwell times. Even with a fast charger, it may take up to 30 minutes. Thus, refueling stations have to be much more than simply a quick encounter. They must offer a consumer experience that makes it worth their while.

a sign promising extended customer dwell times
What do extended customer dwell times mean for you?

(Considering buying an electric vehicle? Here are some pros, courtesy of Bold.)

The trends in charging infrastructures today are just beginning to shift. But it’s clear many companies ranging from truckstop operators to fuel companies are making huge investments. Converting over interstate highway fuel stations to attend to EV customer needs is no small task. This naturally requires making space for EV chargers as well as creating an atmosphere attractive enough to sustain their customer attention. And these trends in charging infrastructures involve in-town convenience stores as well. The goal today is to figure out how to engage people during their extended customer dwell time. Those enterprises who do it well are very likely to profit considerably from their efforts.

“Truck stops are trying to get electric car owners to spend as much of that time as possible inside their stores. So they’re trying to differentiate themselves by providing amenities that will be more appealing to that consumer.” – Jim Hurless, Managing Director for CBRE Real Estate Firm, Dallas, TX

Pressures Facing Roadside Service Centers

For travel centers and fueling stations, the rising demand for charging stations is significant. Meeting this demand is harder than it seems. Simply putting in EV chargers might address the issue adequately. But chargers must accommodate different driver needs and utility rules often vary by state. In addition, EV drivers are no longer satisfied with slow-charging systems. Fast chargers are preferred as part of the new trends in charging infrastructures. And securing these requires greater infrastructure investments. Many roadside centers are actually partnering with specialized fast charging companies to meet this demand. This includes Pilot travel centers, which recently sought out GM and EVgo to assist with these changes.

(Sure, there’s an expansion underway for electric car charging stations, but is it enough? Read this Bold story and decide for yourself.)

parking spaces for people to charge the EVs
Apparently, charging an electric car is no walk in the park.

While trends in charging infrastructures are one recognized pressure, consumer engagement is another. Extended customer dwell times at these centers provide new opportunities for businesses. As such, many of these roadside centers are beginning to resemble miniature malls or department stores. One can often now find fresh groceries and foodstuffs in these destinations. Many also now provide showers, dog parks, and fast-food restaurants. Don’t be surprised if these centers will also include other services like those found in a Walmart Supercenter. With half an hour to spend, these extended customer dwell times are enticing roadside centers to rethink their offerings.

“[EV charging centers] is such a new business that you’re not only trying to figure out who will show up, but when will they show up — will it be at a time of peak or low electrical demand? We’re working with regulators, utilities and states and others to come up with creative solutions to make this work.” – Brad Jenkins, President of PFJ Energy, Pilot’s fuel supply division

Major Companies Investing Big

trends in charging infrastructures as shown by charging thingies
Trends in charging infrastructures point toward a lot of waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Given the rapidly changing trends in charging infrastructures, the bigger players in the roadside service industry are investing significantly. For example, Pilot, which operates 870 roadside centers in North America, is revamping 400 of its current locations. Its total investment is projected to be $1 billion. Likewise, Love’s Travel Stops is also investing $1 billion to bring its older locations up to speed. The majority of these companies are applying for state grants to assist with these costs. As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, $5 billion is being awarded to pay for 80% of new fast-charging EV stations. This is providing a major incentive for these types of companies to make necessary changes.

Travel Centers of America represents the third major player in the roadside service center sector. But it was recently acquired by BP Oil for $1.3 billion. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that BP is also looking to accommodate extended customer dwell time. As such, it is also investing around $1 billion in fast-chargers and new center offerings. This not only includes those within Travel Center’s locations but also those involving Amoco and Thornton’s. Clearly, BP appreciates the recent developments in charging infrastructures and consumer demand. So does Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. It also invested an additional $8.2 billion to increase its ownership share in Pilot from 39% to 80%. Certainly, these investors appreciate the opportunity at hand.

“If you’re filling up with gas or diesel, it might take three to five minutes, but charging electric vehicles today might be 30 minutes. By providing those products and services, whether it’s food, Wi-Fi, a dog park or a shower, we think we’re positioned well when compared to a charger in the middle of a parking lot of some big-box retailer.” – Shane Wharton, President of the Love’s Travel Stops

Shifts Beyond Highway Service Centers

For travelers, the trends in charging infrastructures make sense. But these are not the only shifts that are taking place. Extended customer dwell times for charging are also affecting local destinations as well. For example, in many cities, convenience stores are also changing to accommodate these demands. While some customers may plan a trip to a big-box retailer like Walmart, others prefer less of an ordeal. Therefore, convenience store EV charging has increased, placing similar demands for change here as well. Based on all of this, we can expect a serious makeover of fueling stations both in town and out of town. It’s simply another way technology is reshaping our landscape in today’s world.

 

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