The future of America’s ~130,000 gasoline stations, which employ hundreds of thousands of hardworking men and women, is bleak.
Gas stations were once thought of as a great financial investment. It should come as no surprise that many of them are owned by families. In fact, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores, almost 80% of convenience stores sell gasoline, and 62.1% of all convenience stores are owned by single-store operators.
Today, the rise of electric vehicles, greater fuel efficiency and strict government regulation, has led to a decline in revenue for many filling stations. In fact, over the last 25 years, tens of thousands of gas stations have barred their doors, some selling to developers and others pivoting into mechanics, auto bodies, and other automotive related shops. Many simply sit abandoned.
The Historical Importance of Gasoline
Before we jump into the future of filling stations, let’s take a quick look at the past. The first gas stations popped up with the growth of the Ford Model T, and became commonplace in the 1910s.
Before that, one had to buy gasoline from the local pharmacy, hardware store, or corner store. Even today, if you own a small outboard engine for a boat, sometimes it makes sense to buy your fuel at your local hardware store, as the gasoline has to be mixed with oil. The blend is expensive, usually comes in small cans and is a pain to carry, but it is easier than mixing it yourself.
The western world’s reliance on oil has spurred wars, divided nations, caused economic prosperity for some, and hardship for many more. In fact, in many ways, one of the primary reasons for the loss of the Nazi’s on the Eastern Front in WW2, and their total collapse in 1944/1945, was their lack of access to oil.
Of course, the greatest toll of oil is on our environment. But that’s a topic for another article, so let’s pivot back to gas stations.
The Future of Gas Stations
As noted, the number of filling stations in the United States has steadily dropped for decades. Few expect that trend to change. On the other side of the spectrum, thousands of electric charging stations have sprouted up across the country.
Let us not forget how important a part gasoline plays to our economy. For reference, 45% of total U.S. oil consumption is for personal vehicles. Millions of jobs, from truckers, to attendants, to insurance agents, and so forth, focus on just the consumer portion of the gigantic oil industry.
Gas Stations in 2030
There may be hope for gas stations yet. According to Edison Electric Institute, citing an earlier study, only 7% of all vehicles on the road in 2030 will be electric vehicles (EVs). That comes out to about 18 million cars. Of course, the Department of Energy released broader estimates, calculating that by 2030 there would be between 3 million and 40 million EVs on the road.
Of course, both the Edison Electric Institute and the Department of Energy expect EVs to take up a relatively large portion of all car sales by 2030. According to some industry experts, the majority of all car sales in 2030 may be EVs. While that may a prove to be a speculative estimate, it is clear which direction we, as a society, are going in.
However, also on the side of gas stations is the simple fact that gasoline is cheap. Really cheap. In fact, according the AAA, the average price per gallon of gas at the time of writing is sitting at a cool $2.25. At present, the economic appeal of switching over the an EV, or hybrid, is simply not there for the average American.
Gas Station Extinction
The fundamental issue with gas stations is that the land they sit on is often valuable. In many cities, gas stations are simply hard to find as owners have sold to commercial real estate developers. Of course, many gas stations often have toxic soil due to spills and leaks from the underground tanks, further diminishing their sites’ value.
As battery technology improves, gas station extinction is inevitable. The million-dollar question is when will that be. It could be 2030, it could be 2050, or maybe it will be by 2100. As more gas stations shutter their doors, the inconvenience of owning a gas-powered car will further the exponential collapse of the industry. With few petrol stations left and little competition, some gas station owners may jack up their prices, only quickening the industry’s decline.
Think about this: One day, perhaps in the not too distant future, an autonomous electric vehicle may deliver gasoline to the few people who still own cars with internal combustion engines.