The impact of accessing autonomous electric vehicles on petrol stations

I wrote about how the combination of car access, autonomous cars, and electric vehicles are coming together to impact the car industry in an earlier post.

However, the car industry isn’t the only one that’s being impacted by these technological changes. Adjacent industries are also going to be impacted and petrol stations are one of them.

Electric vehicles are going to lower the demand for petrol. That’s clear. What’s less clear is whether existing petrol stations will begin to also serve as electric vehicle charging stations. Early indications suggest that this isn’t going to be the case. Petrol stations don’t feel sufficiently threatened by electric vehicles to serve as their charging points yet, so alternative charging networks are being built. By the time petrol stations recognize the threat and try to transform themselves, it will likely be too late as alternative networks will have already been built.

Car access transforms the upfront cost of car ownership to a variable cost. When transportation becomes a variable cost, passengers try to minimize this variable cost at each stage of their journey. And since public transport is a lower cost alternative than car access (due to public transport’s ability to accommodate more people per ride), car access passengers choose public transport where available. The increased use of public transport reduces car use (independent of the energy form that the car consumes) and this reduces the demand for petrol.

Car access networks (like Uber and Lyft today, or those which will potentially be operated by municipalities in the future) have more negotiating power over petrol prices than individual car owners due to the greater collective petrol consumption that they represent. A more concentrated set of buyers reduces the profitability of petrol stations.

Finally, autonomous cars can be programmed to drive more fuel efficiently than human drivers.

Each of these changes on its own is a threat to petrol stations. The combination of these changes may very well be lethal for many of them.

Also published on Medium.