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Premium fuels: debate over product value is too narrow

Analysis

Fuel retailers have defended their premium fuels in response to criticism from a motoring magazine. Total and BP have disputed claims made by Which Car? motoring magazine that premium fuels do not offer better fuel efficiency than standard fuels.

However, although fuel efficiency is an important aspect of a premium fuel offering, motorists buy premium fuels for a wide range of reasons and the debate over the products’ value should take these factors into account. Two major premium fuel retailers have vigorously defended their products against claims that they perform no better than standard petrol and diesel.

Which Car? magazine claimed that in a test, Shell V-Power, Esso Supreme and Total Excellium „performed little or no better than their cheaper equivalents”, despite the fact that they cost around 7% more. Unsurprisingly, the large premium fuel retailers have hit back, albeit with differing responses.

Total is so certain that its Excellium-branded fuel will provide increased fuel economy that if motorists do not gain more miles per tank, the firm will reimburse the difference in price between Excellium and its standard fuel. BP, on the other hand, has claimed that running a car on Ultimate provides „up to 28 miles more per tank”, although the average is 13 miles extra per tank. Esso and Shell have not offered any statistical claims about the fuel economy of their premium offerings.

Esso said that comparing the performance and economy of petrol is a „complex process”; while Shell claimed that evidence indicated that motorists had experienced „additional fuel efficiency benefits”. Despite the ongoing debate over whether premium fuels are worth the extra money, the products have become highly successful in a range of European markets over the last five years, with many motorists convinced of their benefits.

Indeed, premium fuels have been especially successful in Portugal and Spain, where they account for 10% and 6% of total road fuel sales, respectively. However, fuel efficiency is just one factor behind why motorists buy premium fuels. In fact, research has shown that improved engine care is the most important motivation behind buying premium fuel, while premium brand prestige, environmental protection and improved vehicle efficiency also feature as reasons.

In the UK, the core motivation for 45% of premium diesel users is improved engine care, whereas only 15% are motivated by improved vehicle efficiency. In essence, the debate about whether premium fuels provide better efficiency than standard fuels is too limited. It considers only one core reason behind motorists’ decisions to use premium fuels, rather than the multitude of different customer motivations. (petrolplaza)

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