It seems that history is about to repeat itself. For the horses, until then the most important means of transport in individual traffic, there were at least along the important mail routes corresponding so-called outposts, where energy in the form of rest, water and oats could be “refuelled”. In an emergency, one simply headed for the nearest stream or left the horse to graze by the wayside. The situation was completely different for the automobile and its fuels, as a network of filling stations did not yet exist for this means of transport. This supply problem of diesel and gasoline was solved at that time mostly by drugstores and grocers who sold gasoline from barrels in gasoline cans to the end consumer. Since lamp oils and lubricating oils were the most important mineral oil products before the automobile era, local dealers often already had contact with the manufacturers and included automobile fuels in their sales program.
In 1922 OLEX, the forerunner of the German BP, erected the first petrol stations under the new name “Tankstelle”, including facilities in Cologne’s Sudermannstrasse and at Raschplatz in Hanover. In April 1923, DAPG (Deutsch-Amerikanische Petroleum-Gesellschaft, later Standard Oil and then ESSO) followed with a first sidewalk filling station in front of the drugstore R.Zippan in Hamburg’s Wagnerstrasse, and in the same year B.V. ARAL also began to build up a network of filling stations. Unfortunately, none of the petrol stations from this historic period have survived in Germany to this day.
These filling stations did not have much in common with the petrol stations with several pumps and a roof as we know them today. But this type, then called large filling station, became more and more popular. Probably the first branded large filling station was built in 1927 in Hamburg, built and operated by the DAPG. It had the most important features that still apply today: Separation from traffic by entrance or exit, a small building for fuel attendants and customers, a fuel island with dispensers, a roof mounted on support pillars for protection from the weather, and eye-catching, illuminated advertising. The German economic miracle years brought the operators of filling stations lush growth rates. The rapidly increasing number of motor vehicles brought the necessary customers to the pumps. In 1950 there were half a million cars in Germany, ten years later there were around 3.7 million vehicles on Germany’s roads, and in 1970 there were already 13.5 million – at that time, statistically speaking, eight people shared one car, whereas today there is one vehicle for every two inhabitants.
Get off the motorway, find the right petrol pump, fill up, choose a drink, pick up a newspaper, pay and move on – this was – and still is – a common exercise for every motorist. However, the upcoming mobility change could turn this lived process on its head. Because drivers of electric cars have other wishes.
Major challenges for service station operators
And so Aral has already opened its first two “ultrafast charging stations” for electric cars. The stations allow a charging power of up to 160 kilowatts (kW); depending on the model and technology, electric cars should be able to charge electricity for a range of one hundred kilometers within about six minutes. According to Aral, an upgrade to 320 kW is possible, 80 percent of the battery capacity could then be filled in 10 to 15 minutes – but so far no suitable e-cars are available for this. To use Aral’s electric charging stations, customers must either register with a charging card or app or in the online portal via the QR code at the respective charging station. Payment is made via a mobile payment website using a debit card, credit card or Paypal. “The mobility of the future will consist of a mix of different drive technologies. Electromobility plays an important role in this,” commented Aral board member Patrick Wendeler on the investment in charging stations. “As the market leader in the German service station business, we can be an ideal point of contact for electric car drivers, provided charging happens at a similar speed to filling up with liquid fuels.” In total, Aral says it has around 2400 filling stations in Germany, making it the market leader in this country. A few days ago, the company confirmed its plans for the “filling station of the future”, at which electric cars will later be able to be charged just as quickly as it takes today to refuel a combustion car.
Will the classic gas station soon disappear from the street scene?
History would then repeat itself: as in the 1970s when the profession of petrol station attendant was replaced by the idea of “self-service filling”. Or will petrol stations experience a rebirth as charging stations, 24-hour supermarkets and service hubs for new mobility services?