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Shell’s Latest Magic Trick: Turning Gas Stations into EV Charging Hubs, Because Who Needs Oil Anyway?

Posted by John Donovan: 20 March 2024

In a move that screams “We’re totally green now, guys,” Shell, the fossil fuel titan known for its subtle contributions to global warming, has announced plans to transform its image by shedding some of its oil-slicked skin. Yes, Shell is planning to dump around 500 of its gasoline stations a year in 2024 and 2025 to make room for what’s being touted as the future of motoring: electric vehicle (EV) charging sites. Because nothing says commitment to the energy transition like swapping one pump for another.

“We are upgrading our retail network, with expanded electric vehicle charging and convenience offers, in response to changing customer needs,” Shell proclaimed, probably while patting itself on the back. This grand plan, which will reduce Shell’s retail footprint by a staggering 2.1%, was first whispered into the eager ears of Bloomberg News.

The company, which currently lords over 47,000 locations, has decided that in its quest to become the knight in shining armour for EV owners, it’ll need to either find more land or supersize its current locations. Because, as Shell insightfully points out, public charging is where it’s at, especially since it’s “needed most by our customers.” And here we were thinking everyone loved a good, long cable snaking through their living room from the car parked two blocks away.

Aiming its EV aspirations at China and Europe, where the EV market is apparently more mature than fine wine, Shell dreams of inflating its charge points from the current 54,000 to a hefty 200,000 by the year 2030. Locations will include the classic Shell filling stations, on-street spots, and “mobility hubs,” which sound suspiciously like parking lots with an existential crisis.

Over in the land of the free, Shell’s acquisition of the Volta charging network has apparently catapulted it to the forefront of the EV charging game, boasting just over 3,700 stations across the US. This is still a smidge behind Tesla’s 6,000 stations but, hey, who’s counting?

Despite a minor hiccup in EV demand stateside, Shell is doubling down on its belief in the electric dream, highlighting its forays into China’s EV wonderland in places like Shenzhen and Wuhan. Meanwhile, on the home front, Shell hints at a charging renaissance, with everyone from apartment buildings to fleets getting in on the electric action.

But wait, there’s more! Shell, in a dazzling display of optimism, predicts an “internal rate of return of 12% or higher” as it diversifies into the coffee, food, and “other convenience items” business for the EV charging crowd. Because nothing complements the eco-conscious electric vehicle lifestyle like sipping on a Shell-branded latte while your car slurps up those sweet, sweet electrons.

Nathan Niese from the Boston Consulting Group seems to think Shell’s on to something, suggesting that the combination of convenience stores, car washes, and charging stations is the perfect recipe for business success. Who doesn’t want to vacuum their car and grab a snack while waiting for their ride to juice up?

In the end, Shell’s pivot from oil baron to EV charging mogul is as surprising as finding a toy in a cereal box—unexpected, mildly amusing, and a sign of the times. As we watch Shell attempt to reinvent itself, one thing’s for sure: the road to green is paved with good intentions and, apparently, a lot of charging cables.

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