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Reporting on the future of gas stations

November 30, 2017

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Changes in the auto industry are impacting businesses well beyond Detroit. Consider your local gas station. (Image by StockSnap via Pixabay, CCO Creative Commons)
Changes in the auto industry are impacting businesses well beyond Detroit. For starters, look at local gas stations. (Image by StockSnap via Pixabay, CCO Creative Commons)

Before long, your local gas station may be running on empty. While it’s roughly estimated that there are just over 121,000 gas stations in the U.S. today, that’s a significant decrease over decades past. The Census Bureau reports that the number of gas stations declined by nearly 10 percent between 1997 and 2012. Increased competition with rich oil companies and decreased profit margins are typically blamed. But new technologies will have even more of an impact, depending on the region you cover.

Self-driving vehicles

Although self-driving cars are still in test mode, they present a threat to gas station health. The problem for gas stations, according to a recent report by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, is that autonomous cars save fuel. The society projects that so-called intelligent transportation systems (ITS) could achieve a 2 to 4 percent reduction in oil consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions each year over the next 10 years as these technologies percolate into the market.

Business reporters can explore this story in cities where car manufacturers are testing self-driving cars, and to try to predict when the technology will start to have a significant impact on gas stations. This map on the Bloomberg Philanthropist shows which cities are testing self-driving cars, or are preparing to start.

Electric cars

This Bloomberg story from 2016 predicts that electric vehicles will be the beginning of the next oil crisis. The worldwide number of electric cars surged to two million in 2016, most of the growth occurring after 2010, when the production of alternative fuel cars began to rise. A recent report from Morgan Stanley cites 2050 as the year when 1 billion electric vehicles will be on the road. This Department of Energy site shows that electric cars only needing $550 in fuel a year, an clear sign that gas stations may be in trouble.

Some gas companies, such as BP, are starting to rev up their operations by incorporating chargers for electric cars at gas stations. If you can find a gas station that also has a charging station, ask the operator how much profit comes from EV charging. Also ask independently owned gas station if they plan to add EV charging.

Ride-share companies

Now that ride-share companies are becoming a go-to travel mode for many urban dwellers, there is a decreased need to own a car. A report on statista.com notes that user penetration of the ride-share industry, currently at 13.9 percent, is predicted to hit 21.6 percent within the next five years. That means not only fewer reasons for consumers to visit a gas station to fuel up, but also to purchase that 16-ounce soda, which is critical to a gas station’s bottom line:  Stations typically make two-thirds of their profits on non-gas items such as beverages and cigarettes. A huge number of gas stations in the U.S. are still owned by an individual or family. An insightful interview could reveal how these owners are preparing for the future.


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