However, the idealism of COBE’s wellbeing-focused proposal is liable to remain a niche approach. Any captive audience is ripe for commercial exploitation, and that consumer dead time is far more likely to be used to encourage drivers to spend on additional goods and services. When it comes to the petrol station as retail space, it’s easy to overlook quite how sizeable a market these touchpoints represent. To put this in perspective, take a market leader like Shell. The brand has 43,000 service stations, serving 25m customers across 70 countries every day. That translates to $6bn worth of convenience retail transactions every year. With consumers detained for much longer, the next step is to understand how the forecourt can diversify its offer beyond convenience towards more revenue intensive models.
EV giant Tesla, which has plans to expand its network of 145KW ‘supercharger’ stations to 10,000 in the coming years, is unsurprisingly leading the way on this front. Speaking at last year’s food tech conference FSTEC, Tesla CTO JB Straubel commented that EV drivers ‘want to eat, they want to have a cup of coffee, they want to use the bathroom’ while waiting for their batteries to replenish. Straubel showed plans of what these rest stops might look like – admittedly still appearing similar to your average convenience store – but also revealed that the automaker was already in discussion with restaurant brands about running food outlets at their sites.
Pragmatists will argue that these spaces will essentially be micro-size motorway service stations, but those with ambition will understand that the opportunity is much greater, with charging stations potentially becoming a focal point for retail and leisure activities in communities across markets with significant EV uptake. Indeed, this January CEO Elon Musk followed up his CTO's revelation with a tweet that expanded Tesla's vision to include ‘an old school drive-in, roller skates & rock restaurant at one of the new Tesla Supercharger locations in LA…and an outdoor screen that plays a highlight reel of the best scenes in movie history.’ Whatever the future of roadside consumption looks like, it seems that it will be significant step forward from the duopoly of the Big Gulp and the microwave burrito.
For more on the future of mobility, read our dedicate Far Futures vertical on our Trends Intelligence platform LS:N Global.