Opinion: Fuelish or Foolish?

Two topics that had retailers bending my ear

CAPE CORAL, Fla. -- Each month, I wax philosophic on topics regarding fuel and transportation for CSP and CSP Daily News. Some of these topics have resulted in emails from retailers who value my opinions. They either agreed with my statements or found them useful in their decision-making.

A useful opinion shared at the right time can dramatically affect a person or organization. They can save careers, prevent costly decisions and lead to increase profitability. That being said, let’s take a moment to look back at two of my opinions that generated the most feedback from readers.

Top Tier fuel.This article, where I questioned the basis of the automakers’ Top Tier gasoline program, garnered the most e-mail feedback during the past year. Most who wrote me agreed with my analysis—that a retailer could be unfairly viewed as selling an inferior product if not selling Top Tier-certified fuel.

One interesting point was made by a Wisconsin, single-store retailer who is unbranded but purchases and sells gasoline that is Top Tier. However, he cannot advertise that he does so without paying “$5,000 a year for (use of) a logo,” as he describes it. As single-store operators represent about 63% of the industry, this issue is very near and dear to their hearts, and a point of pain.

Some retailers agreed with my observations, and felt that paying the extra money to be Top Tier gave them “an advantage over our competition” and was worth the money. In some cases, readers felt I was attacking retailers who sold Top Tier-certified fuel, which certainly was not the intent.

The role of opinions is to shine a light on the issues, benefits and drawbacks of any program, policy or product. Clearly, this column opened up discussion regarding the value of the Top Tier program. Retailers can work with NACS to influence the issue in a manner that satisfies the bulk of its membership.

Electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles. According to most feedback I’ve received on my columns about these issues, I am either a lobbyist for the EV industry or just plain wrong.

I take full responsibility for saying in an April 2015 column that “2015 has all the makings of a year which may see us selling increased gallons with reduced margins.” Luckily for the industry, only the first half of that sentence turned out to be accurate.

In regard to EVs, I am reminded that identifying potential outcomes that are not beneficial to the current business model will never be received positively. The bulk of respondents on this topic do not see EVs or autonomous vehicles ever becoming a reality, or becoming one for at least 50 years. Retailers who do believe this technology is coming sooner are hoping to learn more about how they can charge vehicles at their sites, and have asked me to write more articles on the topic. They are, however, in the minority.

As this year’s candidates for office show, opinions change over time. In their case, it’s often pointed out as a bad thing. (I will leave that up to your judgment.) Regarding our industry, however, our opinions should change over time, as we have entered a period where many different forces are acting upon the nature of transportation, and especially as regards transportation fuel. My beliefs have evolved with exposure to industry leaders as part of my involvement with the Fuels Institute, as well as the changing political and scientific landscape. Don’t be surprised if they evolve further.

My favorite email this year ended with the following sentence: “Sorry to bend your ear, but I loved the article and figured I would give you my two cents.” Please feel free to write me and bend my ear any day, as your opinions continue to be very important to me in helping shape my own, and I hope mine continue to help you develop yours.


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