Why it's so hard to give up gasoline

Convenience, and convenience stores

According to the National Association of Convenience Stores ( NACS), which is all about "advancing convenience and fuel retailing," of the 154,958 convenience stores in the U.S., 122,552 sell gasoline.

What this means is that should you be in need of a gallon of milk you can also readily get a gallon of gas, which is arguably the definition of convenience for many people, who also are interested in everything from lottery tickets to vaping supplies, as well as topping of their tanks.

While the number of gas stations in the U.S. is reasonably high (yes, there are also stations that don't offer an array of beef jerky, as well), it is surprising how many electric vehicle chargers there are out there. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, there are 21,009 chargers in the U.S. Admittedly, the data tracks all types of installations, whether it is a DC fast-charging setup at a Dunkin' Donuts or a Level 2 charger on a corporate campus. The former is probably more accessible than the latter.

What is more surprising than the number of EV chargers is the comparative dearth of places to get other "alternative" fuels being tracked by the AFDC:

Biodiesel: 196
CNG: 910
E85 3,321
Hydrogen: 39
LNG: 66
LPG: 474

All of which is to say that the displacement of vehicles that run on things other than gasoline is going to be a nearly insurmountable challenge if for no other reason that the ready access to the fuel.

What's more, even the vaunted Tesla Supercharger, which Tesla describes as "the world's fastest charging network," requires that a vehicle be plugged in "for about 30 minutes" in order for a recharge. When I was pumping gas this morning it was 3 degrees F, and the fewer than five minutes it took seemed like, well, "about 30 minutes." So what would 30 actual minutes feel like? (Granted, you can sit inside your car while charging, but still ...)

Part of the diesel settlement with the U.S. and California, in particular, Volkswagen of America established Electrify America, a company that is spending $2 billion to, well, electrify America (California is getting $800 million of the money). It intends to have 900 charging stations installed across the U.S. by mid-year, which will offer 5,000 charging ports (presumably with high-power cables that wouldn't require the stations to be taken down, as has just occurred).

Meanwhile, over in Germany, Volkswagen is making an even bigger commitment as it hopes to become the biggest electrified OEM on the planet, as it has announced it will be transforming a section of a plant in Hanover from making heat exchangers to producing fast charging stations.

According to Thomas Schmall, CEO of Volkswagen Group Components (know that VW is vertically integrated in a way that companies like General Motors and Ford once were, before they spun off what became Delphi and Visteon, respectively), "The charging station is an element in the end-to-end responsibility of Group Components for the high-voltage battery — from the development of cell production competences through to recycling."

So not only is Group Components responsible for building the MEB battery systems, but it also be producing the means by which they can be publicly charged. This is analogous to GM manufacturing fuel pumps for BP or Shell.

But VW is going at electrification in a big way, so it seems as though it is going to do whatever it takes to eliminate that cloud of diesel smoke that once engulfed it.

Still, it all gets back to time. And the challenge for the proliferation of electric vehicles is getting people to accept the considerable amount of time required to charge vs. refuel.

According to a survey of 1,690 Germans completed last November by Statista for Infineon Technologies, 29 percent said the maximum amount of acceptable charging time for an EV on the road was 15 minutes or less. Forty-one percent would be pleased with a Supercharger, because they said 15 to 30 minutes. Then after that, the tolerance waned. Considerably.

It is going to be hard to displace gasoline — or benzin — as the fuel of choice, given the efficiency of filling the tank. Who wants to spend 30 minutes cooling their heels in the aisles of a convenience store?

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