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EV Charging Will Shape the Future of C-store Design

Electric vehicles will propel convenience store foodservice to greater heights.
electric vehicles charging in a parking lot

Elon Musk has reportedly received approval to proceed with plans to build an all-night diner and drive-in movie theater in Hollywood. The 1950s-style drive-in will feature 32 stalls for all-night charging of electric vehicles (EVs), a restaurant with rooftop seating and two giant movie screens that will show clips from classic movies.

In covering the convenience store industry for the past 17 years, I've seen dozens of iterations of the "c-store of the future." Like Musk's latest dream, many of those futuristic prototypes featured electric vehicle charging stations to some degree. None showcased as many as the 32 that Musk envisions, but the brilliant entrepreneur has never been known for setting modest goals.

The predictions for EV sales are wildly divergent. One day, you'll read a report that half of all new car sales by 2035 will be electric. The next day, you'll read that Ford will lose $3 billion from EV sales to consumers this year. Recently, a former Ford executive told CNBC that EV demand is not keeping up with production.

Regardless of the varying predictions, I think the only thing that will slow EV sales in the near future is the availability of a charging infrastructure. Despite the federal and state government funding for new charging equipment, most experts see a deficit in the number of chargers needed to service the growing EV fleet. There certainly doesn't appear to be enough charging locations to support the most optimistic predictions for 2035.

The current thinking is that you need at least two charging stations on a site. But is two even enough? Musk certainly doesn't think so. He's taking no chances that someone may pull into his facility and not be able to find an unused charger.

One thing that Musk's new concept appears to understand is the important role foodservice will play as more sites add EV charging units. The whole definition of on-the-go convenience is likely to change as EV owners go inside for a bite to eat while their vehicles' batteries are recharged. C-store foodservice will progress further from snack bar to fast food to fast casual sit-down restaurants.

I recognize that the obstacles to electrification of the motor vehicle fleet are huge and go beyond the number of charging locations. Who knows if car makers can find sufficient quantities of the minerals needed to make batteries or if the U.S. power grid can handle a massive influx of new electric vehicles. And, as the latest number of severe weather-related events show, the disastrous impact of one major hurricane would be amplified by an overreliance on electricity to power cars, trucks, homes and businesses.

Nevertheless, the momentum — fueled by government spending — appears to be moving the country inexorably toward EVs. The smart business decision is to be ready. Musk's diner/drive-in/restaurant/charging facility might actually be a glimpse of the future convenience store.

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