Many years ago, when tobacco companies started to see the hand writing on the wall warning of tough economic times ahead, they began diversifying into a a broad range of consumer products in an effort to insulate themselves from declining cigarette sales. Now, Royal Dutch Shell is starting to do the same as it sees changes in the marketplace looming on the road ahead. It announced this week that it has acquired NewMotion, which operates one of western Europe’s largest EV charging networks.
NewMotion specializes in converting parking spots into electric charging stations and has more than 30,000 EV charging points in Europe. Like Shell, it is also based in the Netherlands, where awareness of global warming is a staple of the local culture. “This is a way of broadening our offer as we move through the energy transition,” Matthew Tipper, Shell’s vice president of new fuels, told CNNMoney in an interview. “It’s certainly a form of diversification.”
The corporate marriage is a strange one, given that NewMotion’s founding principle is creating “a cleaner world by eradicating fossil fuels.” It CEO, Sytse Zuidema, says the deal will speed up the growth of the company by letting it plug in (you should pardon the expression) to Shell’s vast business network. “We are here not to fuel cars with petrol, but with electricity,” Zuidema says.
Shell is introducing fast charging points at its gasoline and diesel stations. It is also experimenting with smart charging technology that will help balance the electrical grid. The NewMotion system will be separate from the EV charging infrastructure being installed at Shell stations in Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and the Philippines.
“They’re complementary offers. One is fast charging on the go [at the service stations] and the other is a slightly slower rate of charge at the workplace or at home. At this stage there are no plans to integrate the two,” Shell’s vice-president for new fuels, Matthew Tipper, tells the press.
Electric cars are popular in Europe, where people tend to drive fewer miles to work and back every day and urban congestion makes larger vehicles less suitable than in the US. In addition, European regulators are pushing hard to make emissions standards tougher. Norway, France, Germany and the U.K. have all announced efforts to phase out vehicles powered solely by fossil fuels.
When it comes to embracing the transition to zero emissions electric caers, “We feel closer to it,” says Tipper. “The degree to which electrification is changing mobility is very, very apparent here. It leads to this mindset.”
Demand for electric vehicles is expected to rise significantly in coming decades and Morgan Stanley estimates that up to 3 million public EV charging points could be needed in Western Europe by 2030. Currently, there are fewer than 100,000.
The news from Europe stands in sharp contrast to what’s going on in the US, where the majority of service station operators are showing no interest in installing EV charging equipment. Instead, it is assumed that governments and auto makers will do the heavy lifting. No one seems to be at all concerned that all those lovely gas stations may one day disappear from the American landscape. The dinosaurs probably didn’t see the meteor coming, either.