Nor­way sta­tions to fully charge EVs in just 10 min­utes

Car­maker group that in­cludes Ford, BMW fund­ing su­per­charger

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY SANDRINE RASTELLO AND MIKAEL HOLTER Bloomberg News

A pit stop on a Nor­we­gian high­way in the mid­dle of fields be­tween Oslo and the Olympics town of Lille­ham­mer will soon of­fer a glimpse of the fu­ture for the global gas sta­tion in­dus­try.

At the Cir­cle K in Dal, 35 miles north of the cap­i­tal, own­ers of the next gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric cars will within months be able to charge their bat­tery in as lit­tle as 10 min­utes — about one-third the time it now takes. While they wait, driv­ers can pop inside and wolf down a made-to-order bur­rito and other culi­nary items not usu­ally found at gas sta­tion con­ve­nience stores.

The new power and food ser­vices are two of sev­eral pi­lot projects in Nor­way by Cir­cle K owner Ali­men­ta­tion Couche-Tard Inc., a Cana­dian con­ve­nience­s­tore com­pany that gained a Euro­pean foothold with its 2012 ac­qui­si­tion of Sta­toil ASA’s re­tail arm. Couche-Tard is us­ing the Nordic coun­try as a test­ing ground for how to re­spond to the elec­tric-ve­hi­cle boom.

“This is a trend that will con­tinue to grow, so what is im­por­tant to us is to trans­form with the mar­ket, like we have done many, many times over the last 100 years,” Ja­cob Schram, CoucheTard’s head of Euro­pean op­er­a­tions, said in an in­ter­view.

The grow­ing global pop­u­lar­ity of en­vi­ron­ment-friendly elec­tric cars, spurred by gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives and fall­ing prices, is threat­en­ing the core re­la­tion­ship be­tween gas sta­tions and driv­ers who now have var­i­ous op­tions to reload their bat­ter­ies.

To keep cus­tomers loyal in Nor­way, where elec­tric ve­hi­cles now ac­count for al­most 30 per­cent of new sales, Cir­cle K is even planning a 2018 foray into res­i­den­tial charg­ing sta­tions.

“We should trans­form much more, from ex­pect­ing that the cus­tomer comes to us at the sta­tion,” Schram said. “We should maybe start also com­ing to them.”

Ac­cord­ing to Schram, 60 per­cent to 70 per­cent of plug-ins take place at home, 20 per­cent to 30 per­cent at work and in pub­lic places, and only 10 per­cent at gas sta­tions. That’s forc­ing re­tail­ers to step up their game.

At Cir­cle K’s Dal fa­cil­ity, the new su­per­charger is part of a Euro­pean-wide push fi­nanced by a group of car­mak­ers in­clud­ing BMW AG and Ford Mo­tor Co. Cir­cle K is their north­ern Euro­pean part­ner, with 60 sta­tions planned in seven coun­tries — 20 in Nor­way alone — and room for six cars per charg­ing sta­tion.

The re­tailer will pocket rent from au­tomak­ers, share of rev­enue, Schram.

The Nor­way ex­per­i­ment is be­ing closely mon­i­tored by Que­becbased Couche-Tard. The com­pany, which started with one con­ve­nience store out­side of Mon­treal in 1980, has gob­bled up ri­vals to build a net­work of more than 12,000 stores span­ning the globe from Florida to Latvia, with most of­fer­ing fuel. The ane­mic per­for­mance by the com­pany’s stock this year — it’s up less than 1 per­cent af­ter more than dou­bling since the start of 2014 — partly re­flects in­vestors’ ques­tions over long-term growth prospects.

In the U.S., most U.S.-based gas re­tail­ers don’t show much con­cern about elec­tric cars, at least so far, said Jennifer Bar­tashus, a re­tail an­a­lyst at Bloomberg In­tel­li­gence in New York. Couche-Tard stands out be­cause its in­ter­na­tional foot­print en­ables it to study a nascent in­dus­try in a for­eign mar­ket.

“If you think about Nor­way, it’s small, it’s fairly self-con­tained, it’s en­vi­ron­men­tally fo­cused, so it’s a unique mar­ket that not a lot of other com­pa­nies will have that kind of pres­ence in,” she said. “Whether or not we re­ally get there, I think there will be a lot of in­ter­est­ing learn­ing that we can take from the pi­lot.”

With al­most 120,000 elec­tric ve­hi­cles for 5.3 mil­lion peo­ple, Nor­way boasts the high­est EV pen­e­tra­tion in the world, helped by long-stand­ing poli­cies that ex­empt own­ers from sev­eral sky­high taxes. For ex­am­ple, a fos­sil­fuel car buyer would pay an av­er­age of 95,000 kro­ner ($11,700) just for a one-time ac­qui­si­tion tax, ac­cord­ing to the Nor­we­gian Elec­tric Ve­hi­cle As­so­ci­a­tion.

Elec­tric-car driv­ers also en­joy ad­di­tional perks such as free pas­sage through toll booths, ac­cess to bus lanes and com­pli­men­tary park­ing and charg­ing in ci­ties, even if some of those ben­e­fits are be­ing curbed. Slower charg­ing is of­fered for free, which has left an open­ing for faster, for-pay op­tions. In ad­di­tion to the project with car­mak­ers, Cir­cle K plans to add to its 54 new charg­ing sta­tions next year.

Food and ser­vices, which come with higher mar­gins, are also part of the strat­egy. De­spite ef­forts to of­fer bet­ter cof­fee, pas­tries and fresh food, Couche-Tard has been strug­gling to in­crease that cat­e­gory as a share of to­tal in-store rev­enue — in part be­cause of the con­tin­ued strength of lower-mar­gin to­bacco sales.

In Nor­way, where gas sta­tions typ­i­cally sell hot dogs and, at times, burg­ers, Cir­cle K has in­tro­duced a Mex­i­can food ex­per­i­ment in a hand­ful of stores, with bur­ri­tos and que­sadil­las in the $8 to $11 range. Fresh sal­ads are also avail­able as a more health­ful al­ter­na­tive. Later, sta­tions may ex­pand seat­ing space and re­strooms, ac­cord­ing to Schram. as well as a ac­cord­ing to

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