E-mobility insights from Europe

By Kate Thomson, Executive General Manager, Retail Australia, Ampol

23 May 2023

As a long-term battery electric vehicle (EV) owner and executive in the Australian retail sector, I am often asked about barriers and challenges to transition for Australian motorists and for perspectives on how the rise of EVs will shape the future of our service stations and other infrastructure.

Many point to the strong growth in EVs and charging infrastructure across Europe as useful markers of how uptake can be accelerated and how our retail networks will shift to meet changing customer needs.

While it is always difficult to make comparisons given Australia’s unique geography, vehicle ownership demographics and the recent constraints in supply chains that have restricted EV supply, the experience in Europe provides some useful insight and lessons on how our market and networks will and should evolve.

Late last year I had the opportunity to spend time in Europe to meet and engage with a range of industry stakeholders, including manufacturers, infrastructure providers and retail network owners and operators. These engagements – in particular our experiences in Norway – provided some useful perspective on the rollout of charging infrastructure in Australia and the role our retail business will play in supporting transition.

Norway has the world's largest EV ownership per capita and is a global leader in EV uptake. The Norwegian Government has set the ambitious target of 100% of all new car sales being zero-emission by 2025. The country is also delivering fast charging infrastructure every 50 kilometres to support this target. Over 2 million new EVs are still required to be delivered over the next two years to achieve it, however strong policy incentives are in place to drive uptake.

In Australia, EV sales, excluding plug-in hybrids, reached almost 7% of all new cars purchased in the Australian light vehicle market in February, and this will continue to increase as supply chain pressures abate further. The release of the Federal Government’s National Electric Vehicle Strategy demonstrates strong commitment towards EV uptake, and we have also seen a renewed focus on state and federal government vehicle incentives. The commitment to introduce a fuel efficiency standard is also expected to support the uptake of lower emissions vehicles.

For Ampol, the rollout of our AmpCharge EV charging solution commenced in 2022 and includes an initial commitment to deliver EV fast-charging at more than 100 retail sites with over 300 charging bays. We continue to make good progress with delivery of this strategy.

So what lessons can we take from Norway for our business and the broader rollout in Australia? 

First, a large proportion of EV owners have parking at home and a home charging offer is important. At the same time, there is a strong ongoing need for public charging. The experience in Norway demonstrates that as people get more confident with on-the-go ultra-fast charging, more of it occurs on-the-go rather than at home. 

This trend and rapid growth in EV numbers in Norway has created congestion challenges for existing public charging infrastructure. What was deemed adequate EV charging bay numbers a decade ago is not adequate today, forcing Norway to find ways to quickly expand beyond initial commitments. 

Congestion challenges are particularly acute in high density areas, with traffic management at retail sites in some places problematic. Many older sites have also not been set up to cater for different customer needs. For example, some sites have needed to be retrofitted to ensure they can continue to accommodate light trucks and cars with trailers and to meet the needs of disabled customers.

We have seen some of these issues already in Australia on major public holidays and travel dates, with existing public charging bays filling up quickly and creating delays and congestion during peak times.

Hence, matching infrastructure to rate of change in vehicle penetration will be an ongoing challenge. Different penetration drives different solutions, and infrastructure owners have the difficult task of balancing costs, experience and scale in the early growth phases.

In metropolitan areas, more dedicated charging locations will gradually become the solution for the long-term. This means that the right sites need to be identified early on and provisioned to grow with the broader EV market. In Australia we also must ensure we continue to plan to meet the needs of heavier vehicles and potential lower emissions solutions for this fleet, which will continue to play a critical role in meeting our long-term freight task.

The second insight from Norway is that site amenity, security and cleanliness is critical to attract customers making the transition. Charging an EV naturally requires longer dwell times than customers today. Ensuring customers feel safe and secure – from good lighting and round the clock staff, to well-maintained toilets and broader facilities – supports decision making on preferred charging sites.

Having a quick service restaurant (QSR) and broader retail offer is also important to win customers. Allowing EV users to grab a meal, coffee, or even ingredients for dinner while they charge is critical and provides a reason to bypass remote charging sites next to highways with little amenity.

For Ampol, we continue to test and learn opportunities in the QSR space to ensure we are positioning to win these customers over the long-term.

Our experience in Norway reaffirmed the important role Ampol will play in supporting Australia through the transition to electric vehicles. We will continue to reflect on these insights as we continue to grow our retail business and deliver our ambition to make AmpCharge Australia's leading EV charging network.

About the Author

Kate Thomson

Kate Thomson

Executive General Manager, Retail Australia

Kate Thomson was appointed Executive General Manager, Retail Australia in April 2022. 

Kate has more than 25 years' experience in retail operations, holding a number of senior roles at leading consumer brands. Prior to joining Ampol in 2019 as Head of Retail Excellence and then General Manager, Retail Operations, Kate spent three years with ANZ as General Manager of mobile lending. Before joining ANZ, she spent 22 years at McDonald's Australia, holding a number of senior roles including Director of Business Development.

Kate holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Management Enterprise from the University of Newcastle and a Masters of Business Administration from Charles Sturt University.