Home » Pump or Plug: Electric Cars and the Future of Gas Stations
California freeways have long inspired a legendary car culture. But classic fixtures of that lifestyle are primed for change. Last fall, the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, set 2035 as the year by which all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California must be zero-emission, or electric, vehicles (EVs)—a decade and a half ahead of the current federal deadline of 2050. (The UK has since revised its own target dates, which are now similar to California’s.) In late January, General Motors upped the ante, announcing that, by 2035, it will sell only EVs worldwide. This profound transformation will have implications well beyond the natural environment. For example, what will happen to gas stations? It may not make sense simply to convert them into charging venues, which, with current technology, demand time and space far exceeding that of traditional fueling. Though innovations with batteries and re-energizing methods continue to emerge, a full recharge still takes anywhere from 40 minutes to, more typically, an entire night. This means the process requires places for cars to sit, making home charging and parking lot plug-ins the most likely alternatives for the immediate future. So, what will become of the ubiquitous gas stations—more than 107,000 across the United States and over 7,000 in California alone—that punctuate neighborhoods and roadways with their logos and sweeping canopies, beckoning like great 3-D billboards?
“I think there’s a real commercial opportunity here—and potential to increase community amenities,” says architect (and longtime electric-car owner) Craig Hodgetts, of Mithun | Hodgetts + Fung, in Culver City, California. “There’s probably a gas station within walking distance of most homes throughout the country, making them a natural fit for another kind of chain, like coworking spaces or small parks or gyms.” Though the canopy (and even the entire site footprint) might be too small to harvest sufficient solar energy for daily recharging of one vehicle after another, it could provide enough power for another type of business to operate at net zero. Modifiable elements of branding consistency would already be in place. And, since the original structures tend to be “industrial products with standardized prefab components,” Hodgetts adds, “they offer a kit of parts that could be readily (and economically) repurposed.”