Out of around 180 petrol stations in Singapore, only 25 of them offer charging services for electric vehicles (EVs). 21 of these are operated by Shell, which was the first to introduce them back in 2019. The other four belong to Caltex.
Esso — the company which owns a third of all petrol stations in Singapore — hasn’t made a push for EVs just yet, despite running trials in Thailand three years ago. Singapore Petroleum Company (SPC) is in the same boat with its 40 stations too.
As Singapore looks to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, it stands to reason what will happen to these stations.
A shift towards EV charging seems to be an obvious option, but there are plenty of factors to consider. The established networks of charging networks — such as BlueSG’s approximate 2,000 points across 200 locations in Singapore — could be tough to compete with.
Along with this, all new buildings with carparks in Singapore are now required to install EV charging points. There are also plans to install such points in almost 2,000 HDB car parks by 2025.
This means that those who have the convenience of charging at home would have little to no reason to visit a petrol station in the future.
The case for obsolescence
In a world of electric cars, petrol stations do not provide any significant benefits or convenience compared to other alternatives.
– Danny Thai, founder of Zecar, an electric car and sustainable energy company
“Electric cars can be charged anywhere [as long as] there is a power point,” Thai continues on the topic of petrol stations losing their value.
He believes that drivers will always opt for convenience, leaving petrol stations without a place in an electric future. This is already visible in countries like Australia, where around 80 per cent of EV drivers charge their cars at home.
Looking beyond home charging, Thai doesn’t think petrol stations would make the second pick either. Even if people don’t have access to chargers at home, they wouldn’t want to waste their time at a petrol station.
“They are likely to prefer charging while running errands as opposed to waiting at a petrol station,” Thai says.
Since it usually takes at least 30 minutes to charge an EV, it’d be a better use of time to charge near a shopping mall or grocery store. In Singapore, malls such as Great World City and Tekka Place have their own fast chargers. These points are operated by SP Group, at almost 30 different locations.
While they may stop being of use within cities, petrol stations could make ideal charging points for longer journeys.
“They are already located in ideal locations for this and will therefore likely still have a role to play.” However, this doesn’t apply to a Singaporean context as much as it does to countries such as Australia and the US, where road trips from city to city are more common.
All things considered, Thai remains skeptical on the utility of petrol stations heading into the future. “Many petrol station companies are aggressively transitioning their stations to incorporate EV charging. Whether these will be profitable in the future remains to be seen.”
The case for transformation
“As electric vehicles see mainstream adoption, petrol stations will have to expand the mission they fulfil for their customer, in order to remain relevant and thrive,” says Abhi Bhuchar, Head of Energy (Asia Pacific), Oliver Wyman.
He offers a different view, focusing instead on a broader scope of adaption. For petrol stations to survive, there’ll be more to do than just installing EV charging points.
“Petrol stations today operate at a low emotion category in consumers’ minds,” Bhuchar says. This means that people aren’t particularly loyal to a particular company when filling up fuel. They’re more likely to pick the station that’s most convenient.
This is one of the problems which needs to be addressed.
The challenge is to shift the engagement to one that is positive or high engagement. To do so, fueling stations need to find ways to integrate themselves into the customer’s ‘new’ daily routine, with formats that seamlessly integrate into various urban contexts.
– Abhi Bhuchar, Head of Energy (Asia Pacific), Oliver Wyman
Petrol stations and convenience stores have gone hand-in-hand for a long time. In order to compete in the electric age, stations will need to expand on this idea even further. Considering factors like location and clientele, they’ll have to curate an offering that goes beyond just being a charging station.
An example of this is Shell’s first all-EV charging hub in the UK. It is made up of nine ultra-rapid charging points, a coffee shop, and a convenience store. Drivers get to enjoy free WiFi and comfortable seating at the coffee shop while waiting for their car to charge.
“We see success especially if [the stations] have different formats to cater to the settings they are in, rather than a cookie cutter approach,” Bhuchar adds. “For example, the offerings within a station — in a residential versus business district — should be adjusted to the different needs of the demographic.”
The aim of this is for the petrol stations to become a place where people come not out of habit, but out of delight.
Both arguments considered, it’d seem petrol stations — at least those in Singapore — are in for an uphill battle. BlueSG can set up charging points near shopping malls, but for Shell to compete, they’ll need to build shopping malls around their charging points.