The End of the Servo?

In May 2015 there were 6,358 servos (petrol stations) around Australia, ‘… up from a more than 50-year low of 6,092 stations in 2013-14’ according to IBISWorld, with the prediction being 7,005 by 2020.

That sounds like a significant growth being projected for a retail outlet that is primarily based on selling petrol and gas.

But hang on… there are other sectors predicting that within the next decade, all of our cars will be fully electric. Thanks in part to Elon Musk’s gifting of his electric vehicle protocols to the internet we’re seeing the start of the EV gold rush, with literally every major car manufacturer announcing plans for imminent release of their own full EVs within the next few years.


So, in the event that this might be true – why would we need the servo?

If we’re charging our car at home (the charging kit comes with the car purchase), the servo seems like a venue that is conveniently avoidable unless we’re desperate for some bread and milk or a warm pie after hours (if that’s your thing)… hardly the recipe for retail success.

Gas station closed

There are many factors and interests at play and I won’t attempt to unravel the many complexities of retail spending, profit margin trends or the vagaries of convenience shopping.

What does interest me though is the mental exercise of trying to re-imagine the servo in a near future where petrol sales have plummeted and can no longer support the business.

Here are some thoughts;

  • Super-charger stations for EVs? These high-rate chargers can give your EV around 100km range in 30 minutes. But, if we can charge at home, why bother with the servo..? Unless…
  • The charge is free if I spend a minimum amount in the new-and-improved retail outlet. Would the shop now specialise in food and beverage? Groceries? An evolved version of the local market? Maybe, although I’d suspect all of the existing retail markets are already fully catered for in each location.
  • Convert wholly into a retail outlet? Cafe or restaurant? Maybe, although when I picture the vast majority of urban service stations I shudder at the thought of spending time in those buildings – they’re far from humane architecture and are designed as nothing more than transient spaces… they’d need a significant forecourt-blitz to re-imagine them. Cost prohibitive in most cases.

The Filling Station, Oregon, CA. It works when the setting is right.

  • Demolish and build some apartments? I’d say very likely in many locations – notwithstanding the site decontamination costs, your average corner dual-access servo site would fit around 6 or more apartments, some would fit many more. Digging a basement car park would readily solve the decontamination issue.
  • Convert to local battery storage site for the new neighbourhood renewable energy grid? Local sewerage mining and treatment facility? Possibly, although I can imagine a web of planning and zoning controls and neighbour concerns that might need confronting…
  • Headquarters for the local Urban Farmer? (yup, this one just won’t quit – it’s going to happen soon : )
  • Convert to the local hyper-market garden? After a full decontamination (let’s ignore the inevitable human culture issues) and a full-scale rejuvenation of the site, perhaps they could produce high-intensity urban food.. think aquaponics, high rotation crops, permaculture, bee hives etc. Hmm…. might be the poetic response? I’d love to see this but I can’t see it being financially strong – would need subsidies.

Rooftop farm, Brooklyn, NY

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see most if not all of these options come true… it will come down to each location needing the right reaction.

Any other ideas? This is still rattling around in my head.. so if you have others please let me know. The internet seems very dry on this topic and my curiosity needs feeding : )

As to why the major fuel retailers are investing literally billions in building new petrol stations around Australia – they must have a plan up their sleeve, mustn’t they? Are they land banking? Have they identified a superior use for the near future that they’ll reveal with a flourish at the right moment?

Only time will tell.


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