Forget Harajuku, department stores, serene temples, and cutting-edge design. The true reason to visit Japan is because of the ubiquitous vending machines that let you refuel anywhere, anytime. Soft drinks, Pocari Sweat, hamburgers, beer, sacks of rice, and other items that shall remain unmentioned on this family friendly site all can tumble into your hands instantly. The products and technology continue to evolve: some vending machines try to be smarter than us by using facial recognition technology to “suggest” drinks based on a person’s age and gender.
Soon vending machine stations will do more than dish out empty calories for commuters and bemused tourists. This week 10 companies, including Panasonic and the leading vending machine management firm Forking Co., will supply electric vehicle charging stations for free when building management customers purchase vending machines.
While Japan has been long been a leader in electric vehicle research, development, and manufacturing, Japanese EV owners face the same issues EV drivers around the world confront: a lack of conveniently placed charging stations. Forking’s management views the partnership as a tactic to increase vending machine sales at facilities like hotels, parking structures, and shopping centers.
The project starts later this month and is ambitious. Forking will offer an EV recharger for every two or three vending machines sold, and this coalition is determined to install 10,000 rechargers this year.
This EV station initiative’s timing is prescient as energy prices will spike even more this year. Japan has long been sensitive to volatility in the energy markets, but the country’s government and business community has been proactive compared to most countries. Public transportation, energy efficiency programs, and other fuel sources from geothermal to nuclear have whittled away at Japan’s dependence on fossil fuels over the years. Meanwhile, Japanese scientists and the companies that sponsor them have been competitive in battery technology research and development.
The challenge Forking and its partners will encounter is the placement of these EV charging stations. Most professionals who commute into large cities take public transportation; the vending machines that take in the most revenues are in high volume areas like subway stations. The strategy could succeed if the partnership can align with companies like taxi fleets, and with technology firms that have the capacity to develop rapidly charging EV stations. However the partnership pans out, one thing is certain: we’ll never get tired of Japanese ingenuity and innovation.