SPRING, Texas —ExxonMobil is making a premium play.
In June, the major oil company invited members of the media to its modern, sprawling corporate campus in Spring, Texas, to share details on Synergy Supreme Plus, ExxonMobil’s new premium-grade formulation. The product, which officially debuted July 1, adds two new features to its Top Tier-certified Synergy gasoline formulation. They include:
- A new friction modifier that reduces wear and tear on engines by 30%.
- An enhanced detergent package that cleans up existing deposits left behind by gasoline that meets minimum government standards.
According to ExxonMobil, Synergy Supreme Plus can keep engines two times cleaner than its regular-grade Synergy formulation for improved gas mileage.
Anyone familiar with marketing claims for fuel know that it is an exacting science. Each word reflects hours of testing—and legal review—by the fuel manufacturer to ensure that it does not overpromise. But ExxonMobil’s team is confident that Synergy Supreme Plus is its “best gasoline and best fuel ever.”
The impetus for the new premium product launch—and similar announcements and focus by Shell and BP—is an ongoing evolution in automobile engines. As automakers introduce more vehicle models outfitted with lighter-weight, turbocharged engines to meet toughening fuel economy standards, they are also recommending or requiring owners to fuel up with premium-grade gasoline because it helps these engines run more efficiently. As a result, demand for premium is expected to grow.
Alongside turbochargers, automakers have also increasingly added gasoline direct injection (GDI) technology to engines, which offers better fuel economy than the older port fuel injection systems. Joan Axelrod, senior research associate for fuels, pointed out that more than 50% of new cars sold have GDI engines. Granted, with 200 million vehicles currently on the road, it will take considerable time for the entire U.S. fleet to have GDI engines. About 13% now feature the technology. But the trend line is clear.
“Engine technology changes, and we need to be on top of what exactly the new technology is bringing and what it’s demanding—and also what our consumers are looking for,” said Grant Doescher, U.S. retail manager for ExxonMobil.
To catch this upcoming wave of demand, ExxonMobil’s research and engineering team in Clinton, N.J., began work in 2018 developing the new premium grade. One feature unique to Supreme Premium Plus is the friction modifier and its wear-protection capabilities. Because of how fuel circulates in the engine, about 20% of the gasoline additives end up in engine’s lubricant. As the additive circulates with the lubricant, it replenishes the layer of protection in the engine’s combustion chamber between the cylinder wall and the pistons, Axelrod said.
A Different Consumer
ExxonMobil also conducted consumer research to better understand the characteristics and motivators of premium gasoline buyers.
“Premium consumers are unlike your regular unleaded and midgrade buyers; they believe in premium gasoline,” Doescher said. In general, these consumers buy premium-grade gasoline for about 80% of their purchases. While some buy it because the vehicle’s manufacturer recommends or requires it, some who buy it drive vehicles that do not.
“We call this group ‘Consistent Carers’: These are people who care deeply about their car,” Doescher said. These consumers believe that if they fuel up with premium—even if the car’s manufacturer does not recommend or require it—it will improve gas mileage, provide better engine and wear protection, and extend the vehicle’s life. (A 2016 study by AAA challenged consumer assumptions about premium gasoline.)
Premium buyers also tend to be loyal to major brands, ExxonMobil found in its research. “Premium buyers in most cases do not buy from unbranded stations,” Doescher said. Major oil company brands have more market share of premium gasoline sales than unbranded operators, he said.
Finally, premium consumers tend to better value an “outstanding site experience,” Doescher said. “They’re looking for an immaculately clean facility, for quality fuels with the latest technologies, for very clean restrooms and friendly service.”
A New Offer
To promote the fuel and drive trial, ExxonMobil has launched its “Supremium” marketing campaign featuring the “Mr. Supremium” character, with TV, radio and social-media content. It will also promote the new fuel in advertisements at its 2,500 Exxon- and Mobil-branded sites that have Gas Station TV, and through signage at the pumps and around the site for its entire 11,500-store network.
For the Exxon Mobil Rewards Plus loyalty program, a new premium status will extend exclusive offers and double points for members who purchase Synergy Supreme Plus.
And because of the consumer research findings on site experience, ExxonMobil has also increased the emphasis in its mystery shop of branded sites on factors important to the premium fuel buyer.
“A lot of it is basic blocking and tackling: clean dispensers, clean restrooms, employees in uniforms and name tags. They are things we have been focusing on for decades but now with more of a pinpoint focus because of this,” Doescher said.
ExxonMobil has also raised the minimum standards for its branded sites to coincide with the new premium fuel rollout.
“There has been a strong push with our branded wholesalers, their organization and dealers working on select areas in advance,” said Tom Meador, Synergy Fuels program manager. “The site experience is extremely important to all our consumers, but the premium consumer is demanding that, and we want it delivered.”