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Robotic Gas Stations Deliver Value to Both Drivers and Station Owners

Robotic_Gas_Station-
Analyst(s):  Toren Kutnick
Date: Jan 16, 2014
Markets and Industries: Consumers
Systems and Technologies : Emerging Technologies and Markets, Personal Systems, Service Systems
Original Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

Fuelmatics and Husky have partnered on the gas pump of the future – the Automatic Refueling System (ARS) – a robotic system capable of opening the fuel door, removing the (add-on part) fuel cap, inserting the fuel nozzle, fueling and taking payment, all without the driver ever leaving the vehicle.

Salients

  • Cost – The estimated cost of a single Fuelmatics-Husky ARS system is $50,000.
  • New Hardware – Given the tremendous variation in gas cap design, users will be required to purchase and install a $9 capless fuel filler to make their car compatible with the fueling system.
  • Time at the Pump – It will take an estimated 40 seconds from the moment a driver inserts his/her credit card until the robotic refueling system begins pumping gas.

ARIS Analysis

  • Target Customer – The Fuelmatics-Husky automated fueling system is not inexpensive ($50k/system), so it would likely target high volume stations where speed of fill up and customer turnover are the primary drivers. Highway / freeway filling stations provide one example, as do fleet stations and high volume discount stores (Walmart) and warehouse clubs (Sam's Club, Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club) that offer gasoline. The automated stations could also find use in areas where customers are prohibited from operating fuel pumps (New Jersey and Oregon in the US), or in up market, exclusive areas that do not offer self-service. Those stations owned by a major oil company (@3% of the 157K service stations according to the American Petroleum Institute) and the larger independent licensees are expected to be the primary purchasers of automated fueling technology.
  • Pricing System – Many gas stations offer self-service, a fewer number a combination of full service and self-service, and a much smaller number full service only. Under what category might this new system fall?  For the “full service” option, the additional price/gallon is approximately 10%.  Assuming a $3.50/gallon price, and an average of 12 gallons per customer ($39), there is about $3.90 that the customer is paying to amortize the cost of the robot (vs a human attendant).  Assuming a 3 year depreciation on the robot (about $20k/year including a nominal cost of capital), a gas pump would only require a little over 500 additional customers/year (about 2/day) per pump to pay for the robot gas system.  This relatively simple payback could yield all types of pricing options.  And if the robot can also improve service efficiencies (e.g. time at the pump), and thus allow more customers/pump/hour during busy times, it would be an even better ROI.
  • Value Add for Gas Stations 
    • Novelty – Upgraded stations may realize an initial increase in traffic for customers to experience these novelty products. 
    • Increased Sales As noted, above, high volume gas retailers may experience heavier traffic during certain periods (and on highly congested routes) where speed of customer  turnover is an important metric.  So another pricing option (somewhat different from the premium pricing, above) is because there will be more throughput, the high volume retailer will be able to amortize the robotic system cost with increased gasoline/pump sales, and thus offer “full service” for NO additional charge (“faster, full service at the same price”). 
    • Better Customer Service Gas stations could also utilize the new robot system as a way to advertise and even sell additional items via a self-serve dispenser (there are almost no pump attendants anymore). While increased traffic in a gas station might improve sales of (high margin) incidental items (cigarettes, coffee, snacks, lottery tickets, etc.), some customers might also be less likely to leave their cars to enter the “store” if it is not necessary to fill the gas tank.
    • Payment -  The Fuelmatics-Husky ARS system is designed to be operated by a touch screen outside the driver’s window, but this could easily be replaced by an EZ-pass like system that would link a credit card to an RFID tag (already done by some gas stations) on a windshield that would accelerate the payment process (it could also employ NFC or other smart phone signaling technology).
    • Customer Loyalty - Gas stations have long been operators of customer loyalty programs. Robotics robotic refueling system could also drive additional loyalty programs. One example might be high speed refills for regular customers whose vehicles are equipped with a larger gage fuel receiver.
    • Cleaner Combination Solutions If the fueling process can be automated, it could be combined with (already) automated car washing systems.  This could also be combined with loyalty programs and other special offers as part of a merchandizing effort.  Imagine pulling up to gas station and driving through a car wash, paid via an EZ pass-like RFID, while a refueling robot system attaches to the car and begins fueling. Two minutes later, as the clean and refueled car exits, an attendant (another bot?) passes a breakfast roll and a cup of coffee through the window.
    • An Eye to the Future – In a future that does not rely exclusively on fossil fuel to power vehicles, the retro fitting of gas stations to provide more than just petroleum based fuels is the logical next step in vehicle servicing automation. Electric battery exchange and rapid charging stations are just two areas ripe for automation for the next generation of automobiles.

     

Resources

Fuelmatics Automatic Refueling System (Fuelmatics) - Video

About the Author

Toren Kutnick

Toren Kutnick is Research Director at Myria RAS, Inc. He can be reached at tkutnick(AT)myriaresearch(DOT)com.

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Contacting the ARISPlex team is simple – Please email us at one of the below addresses:

 

General Inquiries – info@arisplex.com

 

Feedback – feedback@arisplex.com

For Content Queries – publisher@arisplex.com

 

Press Contact – press@arisplex.com

Quote Request – quote.request@arisplex.com

 

Connection or Navigation Issues – technical.support@arisplex.com

 

 

To request more information about Myria Logo 344x135 Research & Advisory Services – arisplex@myriaresearch.com