Cross-section rendering of various zones in future vehicle service stations.
While overall vehicle sales declined last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic battery electric vehicles (BEVs) swam against the current, capturing record market share and on track to continue to do so. According to IHS Markit, BEVs accounted for 1.8% of the U.S. Market in 2020 and accounted for 2.5% of vehicle registrations in December, also a record. It’s a trend the market research company predicts is on a trajectory to reach 3.5% U.S. Market share this year and 10% by 2025.
That’s a big chunk of vehicles on the road that aren’t powered by gasoline or diesel, and growing. So what happens to the 180,000 filling stations that depend on motorists to pop in, fill up, maybe grab a snack or a drink then go on their way? A new study by architectural firm Gensler and the BMW Designworks, the German automaker’s design innovation studio, imagines they’ll eventually give way to radically different facilities that take into account the longer time it takes to recharge a vehicle’s battery as well as the pandemic-fueled trend of more people working away from an office.
Neil Brooker, Chief Operating Officer at BMW Designworks
“We think of the car as a space where you’re going to spend more time in or could do other things in now and start to think about what else can you do in the car and start to integrate it and start to think the gas station doesn’t have to be this pass-through experience, it can be an integrated experience,” said Neil Brooker, Chief Operating officer at BMW Designworks.
The whole idea of an electric car containing the technologies that make it possible to conduct more business and personal tasks the picture of the service station of the future starts to coalesce into more of a multi-function lifestyle facility where you pause for longer periods, rather than pass through.
Jordan Goldstein, Global Director of Design at architectural firm Gensler.
“We start to think about when you’re coming for charging and you may be pausing for a period of time. How could that time be utilized not as a pass through,” said Jordan Goldstein, Global Director of Design at Gensler told Forbes.com. “A reimagined or a new age community center where you’re bringing people together in ways that give opportunities to relax, to focus, to mingle, to entertain. Relaxing could be just a place to pause, it could be a place to decompress, perhaps a lounge.”
Brooker calls the concept of these new spaces that are better integrated with our lives Nth spaces which he defines as “space between mobility and architecture.” It doesn’t only apply to service stations, but to places such as office buildings or parking garages.
Rendering of how traffic might flow through a future service station.
“The workday isn’t nine to five in an office anymore. It’s a blend of experiences and locations,” Brooker explains. “Companies downsized office space somewhat. You’re gonna go to work …still gonna want your private space. What if the car becomes your private space at work. With this blur of boundary we’re talking about. That becomes a much more possible option.”
Brooker explains the functions of a future service facility could be broken down into three experiences:
One might rightfully ask, why in the world would I want to gather at a gas station? The answer is simple. Goldstein and Brooker explain the Covid-19 pandemic has become the “great accelerator” for more people working in remote locations but who still either require or crave human interaction, or just a change of scene.
“Imagine I’m working in my vehicle, you’re working in your vehicle. We’re working for the same organization,” said Goldstein. “I’m able to be super productive and focused but we do need to interact. Imagine that this idea gives us the facility to come together but to do so with other colleagues and to to plug in and capture access to other amenities that we may need.”
It all begs the question of how to break motorists of a more than century-old habit of spending as brief a time as possible to fill up then flee.
“It seems like evolving lifestyles, emerging technologies and reverberations of Covid-19 are laying the groundwork for a new paradigm in urban living,” explains Goldstein. “so this seems like it can help almost introduce new behaviors in a way that if experiences are positive that invites you to come and stay and pause longer or sample the different experiences at different times or structure your day differently.
Neil Brooker likens the ideas for future service centers to those of concept vehicles that showcase design and technical ideas to help gauge public interest in determining which get the green light for production and what goes into the dustbin. In this case, Gensler and BMW Designworks are hoping to spark interest in partner organizations to begin actually building centers based on the concepts.
“If we could find the right partners to partner with us to do that we would love to do so,” said Brooker.
For those who fear such a major disturbance in their personal galaxies will deprive them of a traditional fill-up and the opportunity to grab a coffee, soda or snack, Goldstein and Brooker figure those options will always be available. Although when it comes to food, Goldstein jokes it’s likely to be “beyond the Quickie Mart.”
I’ve been covering the auto industry since 1989, first as CNN Detroit Bureau Chief, then as the National Auto Writer for the Associated Press, General Motors beat writer