LONDON (Reuters) - BP said on Thursday it would build a network of electric-vehicle charging hubs in China with China’s Didi Chuxing as the British firm bets on the world’s largest market for such cars to help profits during the transition from oil to cleaner fuels.
Retail services, such as convenience stores at petrol stations, have become a big revenue generator for oil majors such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell with profits often offsetting weakness in oil and gas production.
BP operates a fuels and convenience business across 18 countries with more than 18,700 sites. Didi, China's biggest ride-hailing company, runs a mobile transportation platform, offering users app-based options including car-sharing.
Didi's platform has 550 million users and more than 600,000 EVs run on it in China, BP said.
The venture with BP will develop charging hubs for Didi’s drivers and the wider public and add convenience stores in the near future, BP said in a statement.
The venture could build as many as 200 hubs with multiple charging points by the end of 2020, a BP spokesman said.
BP believes the venture can be scaled up to thousands of hubs across China to reach a leading market position with unmanned and remotely controlled sites, separate from BP's roughly 700 retail sites in the country, the spokesman added.
"As the world’s largest EV market, China offers extraordinary opportunities," BP quoted its downstream chief, Tufan Erginbilgic, as saying.
"The lessons we learn here will help us further expand BP's advanced mobility business worldwide, helping drive the energy transition and develop solutions for a low-carbon world."
China is the world’s largest EV market, with around 50% of battery electric vehicles globally.
In January, BP said it would invest in Chinese start-up PowerShare, which links EV drivers to charging points and helps power suppliers balance distribution.
With China targeting sales of more than 7 million EVs by 2025, the need to manage demand and distribution of power on the grid, particularly at times of peak demand, will be crucial.
Corporate investors from outside the auto industry are betting on electric vehicles, vying with automakers and suppliers to bankroll companies working on everything from advanced batteries to charging devices and all-new EVs.
In Europe, BP bought Britain's top EV charging company Chargermaster last year, with the aim of linking the smaller firm's services with BP petrol stations in the country.
(Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Dale Hudson)