Truck stops across the United States are investing billions to revamp their amenities for drivers looking for a diversion while recharging their electric vehicles.
“Along with the addition of charging stations, these travel centres are being redesigned to accommodate longer stays, with renovated restrooms and showers, quick-serve kitchens, full-service and fast-food restaurants, and dog parks,” reports The New York Times.
Dotted along the U.S. interstate highway system, truck stops are the perfect locations for charging infrastructure to address the range anxiety that still sometimes goes along with EV ownership. But charging an EV can take up to 30 minutes—compared to the five-minute task of refueling with gas—leading to new behaviours from consumers who need to wait out that half hour.
Truck stops want drivers to spend as much of that time as possible inside their stores, says Jim Hurless, a Dallas, Texas-based managing director for real estate services firm CBRE. “So, they’re trying to differentiate themselves by providing amenities that will be more appealing to that consumer.”
Once perceived as grimy and seedy, today’s truck stops “are more akin to a mini-Walmart, filled with energy drinks, iced coffee, and healthy snacks like sliced fruit and veggies,” the Times writes. “Across the aisle, you’re likely to find purses and puzzles, as well as phone chargers and birdhouses.”
Truck stop operators say it’s still unclear how exactly they will adapt to the remaining challenges of the expanding charging network: growing demand, inconsistent utility rules across states, and the need for sufficient power for fast chargers that can deliver up to 350 kilowatts, compared to the 1.8 to 22 kilowatts available from standard chargers.
“This is such a new business that you’re not only trying to figure out who will show up, but when they will show up—will it be at a time of peak or low electrical demand?” said Brad Jenkins, president of PFJ Energy, the fuel supply division of Tennessee-based travel centre/truck stop operator Pilot. “We’re working with regulators, utilities, states, and others to come up with creative solutions to make this work.”
Pilot operates more than 870 Pilot and Flying J locations in Canada and the U.S., and “started a US$1-billion initiative last year to remodel 400 of its travel centres and upgrade others over three years,” the Times writes. “The effort is Pilot’s largest investment in store modernization since its founding in 1958.” And Pilot’s two biggest competitors are also investing heavily in store overhauls.
Meanwhile, investment giant Berkshire Hathaway paid US$8.2 billion earlier this year to increase its ownership of Pilot to 80%, up from 38.6%. As investors take note of the opportunities to meet the charging demands of the growing EV market, the truck stop business could see a major transformation.
“Truck stops don’t care what type of fuel people put into their cars, just like they don’t care whether people buy Coke or Pepsi or coffee or cake in their stores,” said David Fialkov, executive vice president of government affairs at the National Association of Truck Stop Operators. “But they need to be able to make money selling electricity in the same way they do selling gas to build an ongoing, sustainable market.”