Alimentation CoucheTard looks to Norway for guidance to adapt to electric cars

MONTREAL — Alimentation Couche-Tard, one of the largest gas retailers in Canada, is looking to Norway for guidance on how to adapt to growing electric car sales, a trend that some investors fear could threaten its current raison d’etre.The Quebec-based convenience store company, which established a foothold in the Scandinavian country five years ago with its purchase of Statoil ASA’s fuel and retail operations, says it wants to ensure it will still appeal to customers if they no longer need to fill up on gas.“We’ll look at Norway as a laboratory to the future,” CEO Brian Hannasch said during an earnings conference call earlier this month.“We’re very much engaged to see how we can win there.”When it comes to embracing electric vehicles, Norwegians are in a class of their own. In a country of about five million people, there are about 120,000 full-electric or plug-in hybrid automobiles on the road — a per capita ownership ratio 23 times larger than in Canada.About 43 per cent of all auto sales in Norway last month were for electric vehicles. In Canada, that figure was less than one per cent.Still, if Canadians ever do take up electric vehicles in large numbers, that could spell doom for service station operators if their business models don’t evolve.Couche-Tard relied on fuel to deliver 40 per cent of its gross profits and 69 per cent of its revenues in its last fiscal year.It did not return repeated requests for information on whether it has any charging stations in Canada. But according to Flo, which runs a network of charging stations, Couche-Tard has at least 15 of them.While it takes just a few minutes to fill up on gas, it can take anywhere from half an hour to several hours to fully charge an electric vehicle, which raises a question: will Canadians want to charge their cars the same way they buy gas and what does that mean for Couche-Tard and other similar businesses?Hannasch said convenience retailers that sell gas have overcome other obstacles to customer traffic. Increased automobile fuel efficiency is the latest challenge, but they have also had to contend with falling cigarette sales and the convenience of paying at the pump that has allowed customers to avoid entering stores altogether.In a bid to address the potential threat from electric vehicles, Couche-Tard is testing new food offerings at some of its 300-plus locations in Norway in the hopes that customers will stop to spend time and money at their stations.The head of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association said she is increasingly getting calls from companies around the world seeking advice on how to prepare.“Big companies are waking up,” secretary-general Christina Bu said from Oslo.Restaurants, grocers, malls and large retailers like Ikea are installing chargers to attract customers.“If the gas station chains don’t adapt quickly enough, there will be other players that sort of take this market,” Bu said.Other gas station banners including Petro-Canada, Irving Oil and Harnois Groupe Petrolier are either testing the use of charging stations or have rolled them out at some of their locations.“Restaurants are on these sites,” said Claudine Harnois, vice-president of Harnois Groupe Petrolier. “Electric vehicle drivers stop for a little more than 10 minutes to grab a bite to eat or shop at the convenience store.”Industry analysts say they’ve heard from nervous Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) investors who fear that rising demand for electric cars will choke gasoline sales.“Investor concern regarding the impact of electric vehicles has picked up recently, but we believe this remains in the distance,” analyst Mark Petrie of CIBC World Markets wrote in a report to analysts.In another report, Keith Howlett of Desjardins Capital Markets added: “Investor anxiety over the timing of the impact of electric and hybrid vehicles has escalated.”Several big oil companies have left the gas station business, including Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO), which sold nearly 500 Esso stations. More than half of those stations went to Couche-Tard.In a report released this week, the U.S. Fuels Institute said sales of vehicles powered by fuels other than gas or diesel are expected to grow by 28 per cent annually in North America over the next eight years. But it added that the internal combustion engine will continue to dominate the light-duty vehicle market.There were more than 4,500 electric vehicle chargers across the country as of Dec. 31, according to Plug’n Drive, a Canadian non-profit organization that is working to speed up the adoption of electric vehicles.Follow @RossMarowits on Twitter. read more

BrockTVca executive takes home 2010 Lou Cahill Scholarship

Elizabeth Hibbert is the winner of this year’s Lou Cahill Scholarship in Communications.Elizabeth Hibbert of Toronto is the 2010 winner of the Lou Cahill Scholarship in Communications.The communications student was the successful candidate for the annual scholarship, which honours one of Canada’s premier public relations personalities. Hibbert has a long list of accomplishments so far, including being a finalist in the Dobson Case Competition, a member of the Dean’s Honours List from 2007 to 2009 and a marketing executive with BrockTV.ca.She has also served as a marketing communications intern with Big Brothers Big Sisters St. Catharines – Thorold & District, where she developed business sponsorships among other assignments.“We are delighted that Elizabeth Hibbert has received the Lou Cahill Scholarship in Communications,” said Barbara Fox, OEB Enterprise President and Chief Executive Officer. “Lou Cahill would have been proud of her community involvement and commitment to charitable service.”At Big Brothers Big Sisters St. Catharines – Thorold & District, Hibbert had “an innate sense of community responsibility, commitment, hard work and dedication to youth was a huge value-added to our organization,” executive director Dale Davis said. “Her due diligence, understanding of teamwork and ability to consistently go the ‘extra mile’ will contribute to the success of her career in public relations/communications.”Hibbert’s other achievements include:receiving an in-course Millennium Excellence Award from the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundationreceiving an in-course E.S. Rogers Communications Inc. Scholarship from Rogers Communications Inc.involvement with the Brock Residence Action Councilworking as a summer student in Pensions and Benefits for METRO Canadaconducting media monitoring research for a number of charitable organizationsThe Cahill scholarship is awarded annually to a communications student in their final year of study for academic excellence, community involvement and participation in charitable activities. It was established by OEB Enterprise Toronto to honour Lou Cahill, the founder of OEB International, Canada’s longest-operating public relations firm and a subsidiary of the Enterprise Canada Group. Cahill died in November 2008 at the age of 94. He held an honorary doctoral degree from Brock.The scholarship monies are managed by the Communications + Public Relations Foundation.Applications for the annual Lou Cahill Scholarship in Communications, valued at $1,250 for eligible graduating students from the Department of Communications, Popular Culture and Film at Brock University, are available from the university’s Student Awards and Financial Aid Office. Scholarship winners have an opportunity to participate in a four-month internship with OEB Enterprise following graduation. read more