Is the future electric? Will driverless cars dominate the roads? And, what will the forecourts of the future look like? BP Magazine meets the team of innovators, experts and future-focused business developers from BP’s advanced mobility unit that are seeking to answer the questions that could eventually change the way we travel
The team that makes up BP's advanced mobility unit (AMU) has spent the last year analysing the wave of disruption sweeping the mobility market, assessing opportunities, participating in pilot projects and, in recent weeks, striking a series of investment deals that support BP’s strategy in two areas – electrification and advanced mobility services.
“We do a lot of thinking but we are definitely not a think tank,” says the unit head, Roy Williamson. “We are coming up with ideas and developing new business models as we build off what BP is really good at today with the needs of our customers and our consumers in the future.”
And the wheels are already in motion with a string of recent deals in the areas of electric vehicle (EV) technology and infrastructure, all aimed at overcoming stumbling blocks to wider EV adoption, such as battery life and slow charging times.
With BP now owning some 6,500 EV charge points in the UK through its acquisition of Chargemaster, "we now have a market leading solution and a vital platform for future developments," says Williamson. "It puts us right at the forefront of charging in Europe and allows us to build capability quickly."
Timeline of investments
- June 2018: BP enters into an agreement to buy Chargemaster, the UK’s largest EV charging company. BP Chargemaster begins operating in July.
- May 2018: Invested $20m in StoreDot, a technology company developing ultra-fast-charging batteries
- May 2018: BP agreed a strategic relationship partnership with NIO capital, a battery electric vehicle manufacturer in China
- January 2018: A $5m stake in FreeWire, a US company developing innovative rapid-charging solutions
BP’s ambition doesn’t end with EVs says Williamson, “BP’s ambition is to become a leading provider of the mobility solutions of the future.”
“That sounds quite grand,” he admits. “But when you break that down, it means BP cares about how its consumers get where they need to go now and in the future and we want to ensure that our products and services meet their changing needs. We see very significant disruptive trends emerging and as the mobility world evolves, a key part of BP’s role will be to help people adopt and adapt to new technology.”
"Electrification, automation, shared mobility, carpooling, car sharing and new car ownership models: when you put them all together, you get the potential for seismic change in the way people and things will travel around."Roy Williamson, vice president of BP's advanced mobility unit
There's a host of new business opportunities in the seismic changes taking place. The ‘movement of things’ and ‘movement of people’ have been recognized by BP as two areas that have an estimated $50 billion growth potential over the next few decades in the US alone.
These next two decades are likely to be pivotal, then, with EV adoption set to take off in the early 2020s and autonomous vehicles not far behind.
With new modes of transport challenging the need for more traditional fuels on offer, what does the future look like for BP’s forecourts? “BP wants to remain a market-leading fuel provider for vehicles, both conventional and electric, and offer consumers more of the services they might need for this new world," says Williamson.
Three things that are rapidly changing mobility:
- Regulation: from politicians to the public, more and more people are taking a greater interest in possible legislation to improve congestion and emissions, particularly in cities.
- Technology: the rapid technology development in batteries, electric cars, autonomous vehicles and digital will speed the transition to the shared, autonomous, electric vehicles of the future
- Consumers: consumer access products and services more easily through smartphones and convenience (something BP prides itself on being good at) is being redefined. People expect to have things delivered to them when and where they want it.
The future of the forecourt
“Our retail stations are a really valuable asset;" Williamson adds. "They already provide convenient locations and opening hours for consumers whether they need fuel or food, and they will be relevant in decades to come, but they will need to move with new demands and serve new consumer needs.
“But what this means is we have an opportunity to evolve the retail station into new mobility hubs fit for the future."
New mobility hubs
Mobility hubs will provide consumers a range of services - not only ultra-fast electric vehicle charging but also provide servicing to a new breed of autonomous fleets.
As personal car ownership declines- fewer younger people than ever before are applying for driving licences - there will be more fleet-owned cars and ultimately these will be autonomous. BP is set to develop the capability to support those new types of fleets as they play a more significant role in the future of mobility.
And this is where the unit gets technical.
“In the world of autonomous vehicles and fast charging combined, one of the key challenges will be how you physically access the vehicle, so we are looking at technology that will allow for a robotic autonomous charging. The faster the charge, the bigger the cable and the more difficult it is to handle."
The AMU's four main areas of interest:
· EV integration
· Fleet management
· On-demand mobility
· Last-mile logistics
Then, there are last-mile logistics and on-demand convenience for the local community.
‘Last-mile delivery’ might be an unfamiliar concept to many but how a product gets from a mouse click to your doorstep is a complex logistical feat. And last-mile delivery is the most complex and costly part of the logistics chain. And, as more people want goods brought directly to their door with same-day delivery via services such as Amazon Prime, this last-mile delivery is becoming even more important in the whole ‘movement of things’ chain.
“We see our retail sites playing a key role in future, potentially as staging posts as well as for delivery,” says Williamson.
“So, our already strong and growing retail presence needs to evolve into this new space but we’re in a strong position to make that happen.”
What’s clear is that BP’s advanced mobility unit is already making things happen in a sector where simply waiting for and watching developments is not an option. As far as mobility goes, the future is already here.
THE AMU team is drawn from BP’s businesses including Air BP, Castrol, retail and Upstream but also includes a number of external experts. We hear from two of its newest hires...
Sophia Nadur joined the AMU in 2018 as innovation manager. She says:
"The advanced mobility unit has a very disruptive agenda to try to help shape the future of mobility globally. This involves creating new business models with strategic partners, from start-ups to established companies. I help to make the team work quickly and actually deliver some disruptive new business models."
"I come from the consumer products industry. I spent 25 years working in global innovation for Mars, Kraft, Coke, Unilever and some pharma companies. I’ve also run my own start-up. I’ve been an innovation consultant, extrapreneur to organisations and I’m also a qualified lawyer. I bring a mixed bag of skills to BP."
“The future of mobility will be more democratic, on demand, and when it comes to getting food and goods and services it’s all about that difficult last mile, especially in cities. Those are the kinds of issues we’re grappling with and are finding solutions to participate in this future world.”Sophia Nadur, innovation manager, advanced mobility unit
BP’s role in the mobility future:
"With the rise of EVs, we will continue to deliver energy but it may be in a different form and the goods and services we offer consumers and businesses will also be quite different. As the mobility world evolves, a key part of BP’s role will be to help people get over the fear of adopting new technology and to guide them in making good decisions."
“It is not good enough for us to maintain the status quo; we have to change. The question is how fast will all of this happen?”Christian Girardeau, director of electrification, advanced mobility unit
Christian Girardeau joined the AMU as director of electrification in 2017. He says:
“On arrival at BP, I helped to develop the strategy for the electrification programme, which is called ‘the electrification integrator, and I am now involved in implementing it. I also assist in spotting venture activities; last year, we invested in a company called FreeWire and we are deploying several key charging projects this year in UK, Germany and China.
Before joining BP, I worked for Schneider Electric, where I created its elite charging system.
BP’s role in the electric mobility future:
“I would say that we are going into this electrification market at the right pace. One of the most exciting projects that we’re looking at is combining charging and mobility services for people living in big cities. What kind of EV charging services can we bring to people who don’t have home charging access?”