Skip to main content

Gasoline Retailers Back Electric Car Plug-In Stations

BP, Murphy Oil, Cracker Barrel and even Walgreens are adding new service for motorists

While c-store/gasoline retailers aren't looking to tear up those underground storage tanks just yet, an increasing number are testing the addition of electric car plug-in stations. From big oil BP to smaller companies such as Cracker Barrel and Murphy Oil USA, operators have added or are planning to add charging stations for sites across the country.

BP is participating in The EV Project, an electric vehicle (EV) charging program managed by ECOtality, a San Francisco-based clean electric transportation and storage technology firm, and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through a federal stimulus grant of $114.8 million and matching private investments. The EV Project will install 15,000 commercial and residential charging stations in 16 cities and major metropolitan areas in six states and the District of Columbia this spring, providing an infrastructure to support the deployment of 8,300 electric vehicles.

For its part in The EV Project, BP is providing 45 charging locations; collecting traffic intelligence, such as traffic flow and wait times, to support infrastructure design; advising on consumer-interface issues, such as nozzle and dispenser design and American with Disabilities Act issues; and analyzing charging activity, consumer behaviour, station performance and other issues, according to BP spokesperson Scott Dean. BP is not providing any funding for the effort nor receiving any of the project's funding.

The petroleum marketer will install ECOtality Blink electric charging stations at selected BP and ARCO locations in and around the major pilot markets, including Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; San Diego and Los Angeles; Portland, Eugene, Salem and Corvallis, Ore.; Seattle; and Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tenn. The DC Fast Chargers will be available to consumers beginning this month.

"BP has made no decisions on the merits of electric vehicles or electric vehicle charging at gas stations," Dean said. "Our objective in participating in this project is purely to learn and inform future decisions."

At press time, ECOtality was firming up the fee to EV drivers for using the charging stations. A multi-tiered subscription model was in the works, similar to a cell phone plan that was likely to cost between $20 and $50 per month, based on number of charges used.

In a more strategic move, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. is joining The EV Project and installing ECOtality's charging stations at 24 locations beginning in April. The sites will include 12 Cracker Barrel stores in Athens, Cleveland, Cookeville, Crossville, East Ridge, Farragut, Harriman, Kimball, Lebanon, Manchester, Murfreesboro and Nashville, Tenn. and 12 other unidentified locations in the state.

The Cracker Barrel locations were selected by ECOtality based on geographic location, distance to major interstates and transportation routes, distance to other EV Project charging facilities and population density.

"Cracker Barrel was founded along the interstate highways with the traveler in mind and has always anticipated what our guests might want and need as they stop in for some good country cookin' and to experience genuine Southern hospitality," said Cracker Barrel Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael A. Woodhouse. "Becoming a leader in The EV Project continues our tradition of striving to anticipate and meet our guests' expectations. We expect our guests will be quite interested in seeing these charging stations when they stop in with us."

The EV charging stations keep the Cracker Barrel brand relevant to changing times, while giving a nod to the company's past, Woodhouse said. Founder Danny Evins was an oil jobber and the original Cracker Barrel locations sold gasoline. The fuel pumps were removed in the early 1970s during the oil embargo.

"In the early days, Cracker Barrel provided food for our guests and fuel for their cars," he noted. "While we expect that use of the electric chargers will be light during this pilot project, making this available to our guests is consistent with our brand reputation of hospitality, service, and value."

Customers will be able to get the recommended 80-percent charge in just under a half hour. Guests will be able to check the Cracker Barrel Web site to see which locations have installed EV chargers.

In another strategic move, Murphy Oil USA and Eaton Corp. unveiled a partnership last fall to demonstrate to electric vehicle drivers the benefits of fast, convenient charging within the familiar environment of a traditional gas station. After an initial test phase of an Eaton DC Quick Charger at a location in Tennessee, the companies will evaluate ways to expand the program and make charging stations more widely available.

"Murphy Oil USA is committed to being a pioneer and early adopter of alternative fuels and green energy," Hank Heithaus, president of retail marketing at Murphy Oil USA, said in a statement. "Through our collaboration with Eaton, we are paving the way for development of the infrastructure leading to adoption and expanded use of electric vehicles."

The two companies are attempting to address the "range anxiety" electric vehicle drivers face due to the limited availability and visibility of installed and operating charging stations.

Outside the c-store industry, Walgreens is participating in NRG Energy's privately funded, $10 million electric vehicle eVgo (ee-vee-go) charging system rollout in Houston this spring. The drug chain is installing rapid-charging stations at 18 Walgreens locations initially. The retailer has made no investment in the project, aside from the providing the space at the site.

"Our neighborhood stores will be a great and convenient location for customers to recharge electric vehicles," said Walgreens Director of Energy and Sustainability Menno Enters. "This is another way we are providing our customers with an environmentally sustainable shopping experience and it sets us apart as a retailer who is moving clean and green energy alternatives forward."

Once the NRG Energy network is in place, Houston will have more than 100 chargers including DC rapid chargers that can fully charge an electric vehicle in less than 30 minutes, and Level 2 chargers that can fully charge in 4-6 hours.

Growing use of zero-emission electric vehicles in Houston, in place of traditional vehicles, will help reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides emissions that enter the city's air from transportation sources.

"As a responsible retailer, Walgreens is looking for effective ways to promote environmental stewardship," said Enters. "With these charging stations, we can help our customers who embrace electric vehicles and environmental sustainability."

NRG's eVgo charging plans will cover recharging at home or at any recharging station, and initially be priced from $49 to $89 per month.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds