Tomorrow’s road vehicles will be electric, self-driving and shared. So what will become of all those service stations in the new era? This question deserves some thought right now, as various tech startups look set to seriously disrupt the petrol station business. One example is Zebra Fuel, which has just raised $2.5 million to roll out a new type of service that is not yet in widespread use: petrol delivery to your door – or rather straight into your car’s fuel tank! All you have to do is download the app, enter the location of your vehicle and specify a convenient time slot, and a team of experienced delivery people will take care of the rest and come and fill up your car for you. The startup, which is currently operating in Greater London, plans to launch in other major European cities in the near future, supplying a range of fuels from petrol to hydrogen and even charging up electric and hybrid vehicles. This service is designed to enable customers to avoid wasting time driving to and waiting in line at service stations. It is therefore also likely to help reduce and streamline traffic, which will in turn benefit the environment.
Meanwhile over in the United States, Yoshi is offering a similar service, plus vehicle maintenance. Based in Palo Alto not far from San Francisco, the startup recently closed a $13.7 million investment round led by global automaker General Motors Ventures – whose interest stems from the fact that this type of service may in the near future be provided through connected vehicles – and oil and gas giant ExxonMobil, whose participation may indicate an awareness that petrol stations are in need of modernisation. In China too, Alibaba is teaming up with automobile manufacturer SAIC to open a service station in Beijing where the driver will not have to get out of the vehicle in order to fill up or pay. Using AliPay and vehicle geolocation, everything will be carried out via the internal dashboard. However, if traditional service station networks were to disappear that would certainly entail consequences for other product sales. For instance, at the Cleantech Forum in January, Rob Nail, Associate Founder of Singularity University, pointed to the disruption which the market for energy drinks – whose major sales outlets are service stations – is likely to undergo as a result of the widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles.