C-stores Should Be ‘Future-Proofing’ Now for Electric Vehicles

Although mainstream adoption is still several years away, operators need to begin thinking about how to transition their businesses to be ready for the future of fueling.
c-store electric vehicle charging

NATIONAL REPORT — While electric vehicles (EVs) only represent about 2 percent of the overall car market, adoption is projected to increase in the future. And there are some states that are more electric vehicle friendly right now, so convenience store retailers operating stores in those markets should be preparing.

According to the American Council of Energy-Efficient Economy’s first State Transportation Electrification Scorecard, released in February 2021, the top 10 EV friendly states are:

  1. California
  2. New York
  3. District of Columbia
  4. Maryland
  5. Massachusetts
  6. Washington
  7. Vermont
  8. Colorado
  9. Oregon
  10. New Jersey

“Not all markets will adopt at the same pace,” said John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, a non-advocacy research organization dedicated to studying transportation energy based in Alexandria, Va. “California has a zero-emission mandate, and they are much more aggressive with rollouts, and the majority of electric cars have sold there. But there are 10 states that follow as well, so operators need to look at the regulations that affect their markets.”

In February 2021, both General Motors and Ford Motor Co. announced plans to move toward electric vehicles, although Ford was talking primarily about its vehicles in Europe. General Motors said by 2040, it plans to have 100 percent of its portfolio fully electric, and Bloomberg is forecasting that by 2040, 60 percent of vehicles will be electric. President Joe Biden has announced that he will be heavily investing in the EV market to the tune of $174 billion.

Looking at the current average life of a car — estimated to be about 12 years and on the high side, 15 — and looking at the percentage of electric cars to be sold this year — around 1.98 percent, and likely around 2 percent next year — the reality is that the change won’t be as dramatic as represented by the news and car company announcements, according to Alan Cerwick, CEO of VP Racing Fuels, a San Antonio, Texas-based company that provides branded fuel programs to the convenience channel.

“While I believe electrification will be slower than touted, it will inevitably continue and likely over the years, put downward pressure on the c-store industry,” he acknowledged. “In the end, hybrids make the most long-term sense as a transition period, and traditional fueled transportation is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. That, however, doesn’t mean c-store operators shouldn’t begin thinking about how to transition their business.”

Although mainstream adoption of electric vehicles is not coming any time soon, according to industry insiders, many c-store chains are adding EV charging stations to their stores now, especially in markets like California where electric vehicles are more popular.

Among the retailers in this category are:

  • Wawa Inc.: In May 2021, the Pennsylvania-based chain reported reaching an EV milestone, installing its 50th charging site across its six-state operating footprint. The retailer anticipated exceeding 1 million total charging sessions by the end of May.
  • Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.: The parent company of Circle K convenience stores is planning to install EV charging stations in North America, after rolling them out in Europe. The Canada-based retailer intends to begin in its Quebec and California markets, with a combination of Circle K branded chargers and partner charging solutions.
  • Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores: Last year, the Oklahoma City-based chain added EV charging stations to three of its locations in California, expanding the state’s portion of the nearly 4,000-mile West Coast Electric Highway, which seeks to provide charging stations every 25 to 50 miles. 
  • Arko Corp.: The parent company of GPM Investments LLC is partnering with Chakratec, an Israel-based developer of EV charging technology, to ready its stores for electric vehicle adoption. A preliminary pilot is slated to take place in 2022, followed by extensive deployment of fast charging points throughout North America by 2030.

Eichberger believes there will be combustion engine liquid fuel in the market for decades to come, but he agrees that operators need to start looking now at “future-proofing” their sites.

For new builds or construction, plans should include a power panel that can handle electric vehicle charging and parking spaces for the chargers, but also capability for alternative fuels that will likely grow more quickly than electric, according to the Fuels Institute executiv

When going electric, industry experts also emphasize that it is important for c-store operators to increase their focus on foodservice and other products and services to make their stores a destination outside of fuel. EV drivers will have other options to charge their vehicles outside of c-stores, unlike with traditional gasoline and alternative fuels.