With electric cars on the rise, Evanston gas stations expect to change



Nick Francis / Day-to-day main staff

An electric charging station in Evanston. As electric cars continue to gain popularity, the automotive industry in Evanston is changing.

Warren Fellingham started working at a gas station and auto repair shop in 1988.

A few years later he bought the business for himself and renamed it Warren’s Auto Service. But after spending more than 30 years in the industry, he said times change, and so do energy sources.

“The sun is setting over auto repair shops,” Fellingham said. “We’re probably still 10 to 15 years old.”

Fellingham said about three-quarters of its sales came from the sale of gas. The remaining sales come from the repair of fuel-powered cars, which he says generates the majority of his profits. To keep his business up to date, he installed environmentally friendly gas tanks.

But as electric cars continue to gain popularity, Fellingham said he knows the industry is changing.

“Electric cars are here,” Fellingham said. “They’re awesome (and) blazingly fast, but I don’t know if there will be a lot of opportunities to fix these things.”

The only maintenance electric cars need is changing tires, fixing brakes and doing bodywork, Fellingham said. These would not generate enough volume or sales to keep Fellingham’s repair shop going, he added.

Fellingham said he also has no plans to install electric charging stations at Warren’s Auto Service, as the charging stations can be set up anywhere. If gas station owners upgrade their stations with charging stations, he said they will have to provide another incentive, such as an internet cafe or restaurant. This way the customer can hang out while their car is being charged.

Anthony Scala, owner of City Volkswagen in Evanston, is more optimistic about the future of gas stations. He said if he had a gas station he would consider installing dual-duty pumps: one side of the pump would pump gasoline while the other would charge an electric car. It would give customers choice while generating income, he said.

“Ultimately, it will be all electric,” said Scala. “Is it in 10 years, 15 or 20?” I do not know. But it clearly goes like this.

Earlier this month, Gov. JB Pritzker enacted an energy bill setting a goal of one million electric cars on Illinois roads by 2030. Even before that law, Evanston a installed eight electric charging stations in the city that provide free electricity to electric vehicles. Six of these stations recorded nearly 4,000 charging sessions between 2016 and 2017, according to the most recent data from the city.

ChargePoint, Blink, SemaConnect and EVgo operate additional charging stations around Evanston. These stations are either free or chargeable according to the kilowatt-hours.

Evanston resident Brad Turnbull recently bought an electric car and said owning one in the town was fantastic. He added that one of his favorite parts was not having to go to a gas station.

Turnbull has said there will always be a market for gasoline-powered cars and predicts that gas stations will exist for at least two decades. But he also thinks gas stations should look for a proprietary way to fully charge electric cars in 10 minutes, which is roughly the time it takes to refuel.

“Companies like BP and Shell need to pivot their business models,” said Turnbull.

It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen to gas stations, auto mechanics, and other businesses that service cars that require gasoline.

But Fellingham said he believed one thing was for sure: change was coming.

“We are moving from a nation of traders to a nation of apps,” Fellingham said. “Maybe one day you can press an app button and someone will put air in your tires.”

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