A few weeks ago, Motoring Weekly published an article about Royal Dutch Shell and Total, two of the biggest oil companies buying up other energy companies to diversify their portfolios. In Britain, BP has followed suit.
Decades ago in a branding exercise, BP aka British Petroleum, had a go at renaming themselves “Beyond” Petroleum. It didn’t really work out, although now in 2018, it is what all oil companies should be focused on. Five years ago, BP were looking mainly at oil and gas as their revenue sources with a corner-of-the-eye view on the growing renewable energy market. So much so that at that time, they had quietly sold off their wind power assets and that was after ditching their solar power assets, which they had managed for over forty years – so were a pioneer in that technology.
Half a decade later and the company has realised that they need to counter competitive advances by others. To that effect, they have paid $230M for Chargemaster, Britain’s largest network of charging stations – with 6,500 across the country. This technology will now be installed at every BP branded service station in Britain.
This is an interesting play. For many years, the oil companies have been diversifying the forecourt and the buildings. Long gone are the mechanics or gas jockeys (apparently they used to be known as “petrol butlers” in Britain, which is a term I’ve never heard spoken). The point-of-sale building has increased in size over time to accomodate impulse or convenience purchasing and the key was to keep the buyer in as long as possible to load up the bill.
With convenience came speed and many people just wanted to get in and out as fast as possible. Now the oil companies have a reason to keep people in the building – their car could take a while to recharge, although BP wants to get that period down to ten minutes, which gives them time to sell a coffee, snack and other goodies without the driver feeling like they have been delayed. BP has also invested in a company called StoreDot that has an aim to fully charge a battery in five minutes!
If the car manufacturers could only agree on a standardised battery shape and configuration, the defunct Better Place model of battery swapping with “battery butlers” could be a faster solution – however that would incur more operational costs. Maybe that could become a premium service. It was only a matter of time before we saw forecourts with charging stations although I do wonder how many people will use them. Perhaps this could encourage apartment owners to buy an electric car where they don’t have the ability to charge at home.
It will be interesting to see how sales of electric cars go over the next few years, how quickly the infrastructure spreads – and importantly the increase in speed of the charging units. All need to evolve together to keep the momentum up and if BP doesn’t change it’s mind again, they might just be on to a winner.