CHICAGO -- On-demand fueling services aim to make the weekly fill-up as easy as calling an Uber driver. Customers simply open an app, indicate the position of their vehicle, which fuel they want to order and when they want it. CSP recently caught up with execs from two services—Chris Aubuchon, co-founder and chief technology officer for Filld, Mountain View, Calif., and Frank Mycroft, CEO of Booster Fuels Inc., Burlingame, Calif.—to find out how their offers have evolved.
Filld execs initially expected their service to be most popular with Silicon Valley execs and soccer moms. But today, the most common cars that Filld fills up include models such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.
Booster Fuels focuses on filling up vehicles at office parks and parking lots, allowing it to service multiple vehicles at once. One small but growing segment is fleets, from logistics companies to rental-car operations.
“We solved a key problem for a lot of people in this space, whose only alternative up until now might have been going to the gas station,” Mycroft says.
One of the biggest draws of on-demand fueling—besides the convenience—is it allows customers to avoid the perceived dangers of a gasoline station.
“There are less crimes when a truck comes to fill your car than you being at a gas station,” Aubuchon says. This includes eliminating the risk of being robbed or having data stolen from a compromised point of sale, as well as touching a dirty dispenser or handling flammable gasoline. He says there has not been a single fire in more than 300 million fillups by on-demand fueling services, compared to one fire for every 3 million fill-ups at gas stations.
The supply side
Both Filld and Booster claim to charge less than the average gas stations in their markets. While they declined to share “the secret sauce” behind their supply, they tap from a variety of supply options. “What we do on any given day is based on pricing, supply availability, volume of need: We pick which one is most economic,” Aubuchon of Filld says. This includes going straight to the terminal or buying from a local branded retailer.
“We probably go as far up the supply chain as we can,” says Mycroft, above, of Booster. “Every time someone in the supply chain is loading fuel from somewhere ... you have to pay for that driver, that truck and transfer time.”
Right-size the ride
There are three main types of on-demand fueling trucks: a small tanker truck that fills vehicles directly; a pickup that carries gasoline in small, portable containers; and a small truck that has built-in, segregated containers for fuel. Filld takes the latter approach.
“It’s a small-enough truck to where there’s no alarm in any neighborhood where we go,” says Aubuchon. In Filld focus groups, he says, consumers did not want big fuel-tanker trucks in their neighborhood. “It’s small and doesn’t look like it’s carrying a gajillion gallons that could spill.”
Some local fire marshals have struggled to make current regulations fit the on-demand fueling model. For service providers, it means trying to communicate and demonstrate the safety of the transaction to regulatory authorities. Booster highlights its certified and trained drivers and compliant fueling equipment. And when Filld recently expanded its service to the Vancouver, British Columbia, market in a partnership with the Car2go car-sharing offer, it demonstrated the fueling process and extensive fire-safety training its drivers undergo to Canadian regulators.
To fee or not to fee?
Some services such as Booster Fuels do not charge a delivery fee. For Filld, delivery fees are a tool for building density. Depending on the time and day, it may charge zero to $8 to deliver a fill-up. The highest fee is for orders in a two-hour delivery window from 8 to 10 p.m. The most popular option is a seven-hour window between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m., with a delivery charge of $3. And in some areas, it offers one night with no delivery charge.