High-octane fuel may slow the rise of EVs, but electric dominance is likely inevitable. Norman Turiano, principal of Turiano Strategic Consulting, Cape Coral, Fla., believes the downturn of the liquid-fuels market in favor of EVs could mean the end of convenience stores as fuel retailers for one simple reason.
The HFC-powered Toyota Mirai (picured above) comes with three years’ worth of free fuel.
“The most logical places that people will recharge is where they’re going to spend some time, and that’s restaurants, malls, etc., and there’s no prohibitive cost of entry for those retailers to get in,” says Turiano.
Eichberger shares a similar opinion, thinking most consumers would want to charge their cars at home. But he believes something else could keep c-stores in the fuel-retail game: hydrogen fuel cells (HFCs).
“Hydrogen will always be bought in market. No one’s going to be producing it at home, so from a business perspective on the retail side, you really want to cheer for hydrogen,” he says.
The idea is plausible. HFCs can go much farther than EVs on a single fill-up, and HFC refuel time is about three to five minutes—far shorter than the current 20- to 30-minute charge time for EVs.
The problem with HFCs is twofold. First, there’s the cost. “Infrastructure’s $10 million a site and the ramp-up has been very slow,” Eichberger says.
Turiano agrees, pointing to dynamics of the California market, home to most of the country’s HFCs and hydrogen fueling stations. “California is mostly paying for [HFC infrastructure] because there’s no viable payback for a retailer except if they’re subsidized, or if they’re looking for something other than monetary gain,” he says.
Despite the high cost of bringing HFCs to market, they still have a competitive advantage over EV: range.
But that difference in performance may not last forever. HFCs currently outlast EVs in fuel range by more than 100 miles, and the fill-up time for HFCs leaves the fastest EV charge time in the dust. That may seem like a large gap, but Eichberger says the longest range for EVs was just 70 miles as recently as five years ago. The gap between the two fuel disruptors is closing quickly, and Eichberger doesn’t see EV innovation slowing down anytime soon.