At the start of 2021 the number of electric cars registered in the UK soared to almost half a million (435,000). With a record 175,000 (approx.) new electric vehicles registered in 2020, a 66% rise on 2019, along with the UK policy to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 as part of its 2050 carbon neutrality target, forecourt operators are looking to understand what their future will be in this changing environment.
According to calculations by property and planning consultancy Rapleys, while significant change is on the horizon forecourts are facing an immediate economic headache over whether to invest in charging points, with further government action likely needed to ensure the roll out of EVs is successful, sustainable and builds on the infrastructure capacity and expertise offered by existing forecourts.
Daniel Cook, Partner in the Automotive and Roadside team at Rapleys, said:
“There are an estimated 13,347 charging locations currently across the UK. This compares favourably to around 8,500 filling stations. However, the majority of these charging locations are relatively small scale, with an average of three connectors per location. Currently, only around 25% of EV charging connectors are rapid or ultra-rapid. In order to provide scale in the market, the direction of travel must be for filling stations to increasingly incorporate or convert to electric charging. But there are a number of challenges to doing so quickly, not least the current time required for charging.
“Even rapid charging typically takes 30 minutes. With that added time spent on site, forecourts will need to be able to have the space to cater for larger volumes of traffic and new offerings to support dwell time, or they will have to raise the price of charging to make the economics work. This reality may mean increased consolidation in the forecourt sector as electric vehicles become more prevalent. Those with larger amounts of capacity and additional retail and leisure offerings, such as the big supermarkets and larger motorway service stations, may hold an advantage in the charging market. Those with large car parks, for example, may in the future be able to easily incorporate wireless EV charging on a pad in a parking space.
“Of course all of this ignores the fact that many owners of electric vehicles will charge their cars at home. It remains to be seen therefore what the overall impact will be in, say, 30 years’ time in terms of total number of filling / charging points but it is quite feasible that this overall number will continue to increase in the short to medium term, plateau and then decline with the switch from hydrocarbons. Owners of filling stations will unquestionably need to think about the longer term future of their sites and possible alternative uses.”
Mark Frostick, Senior Associate in the Automotive and Roadside team at Rapleys, added:
“The issue is scale, feasibility and convenience, and in many ways the market is in a chicken and egg situation. On the one hand, while the UK has a clear ambition to support electrification until there is mass take up of electric vehicles, the rationale for forecourts to invest in charging points is limited. To take one analogy, a forecourt operator converting to cater only for electric vehicles would have a smaller market than one deciding to sell petrol or diesel only to Toyota Yaris drivers! Indeed, it would be broadly equivalent to selling only to owners of Fords, BMWs or VWs registered in 2020! On the other hand until it’s as quick, easy and accessible to charge a car as it is to fill it with diesel or petrol the public are unlikely to take the plunge en masse, with many still concerned about the issue of range.
“Those forecourts looking to incorporate charging at scale may, for example, face significant costs and property challenges – for example the installation of an electricity substation can cost upwards of £100k and possibly require landlord consents.
 509,839 Toyota Yaris on the road in 2019
 UK car registrations 2020: Ford (152777), BMW (115476), VW (148338)
“Clearly, without additional incentivisation penetration of electric vehicles into a market which now has more than 40m vehicles on the road is likely to be slow – they currently represent around 1%. Government has used the stick with the 2030 fossil fuel ban, it may now be time for the carrot.”