Could it be that supermarkets turn out to be the big winners from the coming electric vehicle revolution?
The remaining question over electric vehicles isn’t to do with range or even pricing. It’s to do with charging.
We know already that technology exists for faster and slower charges, and that those who are able to charge their cars overnight when electricity tariffs are at their cheapest are onto a real winner when it comes to miles per pound charged.
But for the most densely populated areas – the cities – where parking is on-street and often haphazard and unpredictable, relying on overnight charging isn’t really an option.
Some city councils are introducing charging points in the spaces they control, and it may be that city councils too come out as winners from electric vehicles. Indeed, government agencies at all levels have shown themselves adept at milking motorists in ever more creative ways over the years.
Nevertheless, with an infrastructure as sophisticated as electric vehicle charging technologies, the likelihood that councils will be able to handle it efficiently at scale seems unlikely.
Supermarkets, on the other hand, with the free market incentive built into their DNA, and with their existing experience of selling petrol on the forecourt, are another matter.
Already, electric vehicle charging stations are available in some supermarket carparks. It’s not a real stretch to imagine that in twenty years’ time every supermarket parking space will have a charging point. After all, shopping takes time, and so does charging.
But what’s known as Rapid charge can give an average electric vehicle between 60 and 100 miles in between 20 and 30 minutes. If you apply a little bit of the ol’ Elon Musk optimism, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that charging times will go down and mileage numbers will go up over the next decade or so.
Suddenly a trip to Waitrose or J Sainsbury PLC (LSE:SBRY) or Tesco PLC (LSE:TSCO) seems like the perfect time to charge the car. In fact, it actually saves time, since you’re parking there anyway to do your shopping. The big shopping centres will do even better, since a shopping tour around the Westgate Centre and perhaps a meal will allow for an even greater time for charge.
So what does this mean? One could easily envisage a sudden plethora of major capital raisings from retail companies occurring in a few years time, as a rush to install electric vehicle charging equipment across carparks gets underway. The income generated will of course be steady, with solid margins, and bring supermarkets and retail operators somewhat closer to the utilities in terms of investment profile.
Will it happen this way?
It’s hard to know. When mobile phones came in, plenty of predictions were made about what would happen, but initially no-one thought that one outcome would be the almost total death of home photography and cameras independent of phones.
One industry died, another rose. Here, it looks as though there will be a gradual blurring of lines rather than a life and death struggle. But why stop off on the highway at all in future, when vehicle charging can just be combined with other activities.
The supermarkets will make their play before long, but so will others. There’s still everything to play for.