The automatic gas stations, those that lack personnel and are cheaper than the traditional ones, are experiencing a boom after the pandemic and the current price increase, which will allow them to increase their weight in the national market by almost 4 percentage points, up to 16%. Currently there are 1,277 points of sale in Spain, after in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, they grew by 22% despite the “obstacles” of the regional and local administrations, as the president of the Association has assured EFE in an interview National Automatic Service Stations (Aesae), Manuel Jiménez Perona. According to data from Aesae (which does not account for hypermarket stations or agricultural cooperatives), Spain, despite the progress recorded in the matter, is still far from reference countries such as Denmark or Finland, where automatic stations account for more than 60 % From the market.
Catalonia It is the community with the most automatic gas stations, with 22% penetration. They are followed by Valencia (18%), Madrid (14%), La Rioja (13%) and Andalusia (12%). The rest of the communities are below the state average (12%), with Canarias (2%), Galicia (5%), Cantabria (6%) and Navarra (6%) at the bottom.
Behind its implementation are companies such as Ballenoil (with more than 150 stations and another 30 in the pipeline in the next two years), Petroprix (108) or Plenoil (87), which have brought to Spain this formula launched in the early days of this decade in northern Europe, where at that time there was no monopoly in the sector.
Before they tried to implement the US oil company Exxon, which finally had to sell because the traditional model “suffocated” the competition with laws that imposed quotas on the number of gas stations, recalls Jiménez.
In 2003-2004 the door was opened so that service station operators could stop serving fuel and it was the customers who were in charge of refueling. This reduction in costs and personnel was “absorbed” by the oil companies and their champions, who did not pass the savings on to the customer in the form of lower fuel prices. This modification, together with the fact that the European Union ended the oligopolies and the refineries and distributors were forced to sell to other companies at similar prices, made the sector more attractive, in which new players entered that did lower prices, according to the president. of Aesae, which they relegated to open their stations in the suburbs.
Having less space (there is no store) and not having personnel who attend them is what allows the automatic stations -which can be open 24 hours a day- to sell fuel between 12 and 20 cents per liter cheaper than at gas stations traditional.
This represents about “200-300 euros a year” of savings, which is equivalent to 1% of a family budget, warns Jiménez, who assures that the “fuel is the same – it leaves the centers of CLH (Compañía Logística de Hidrocarburos)” . In his opinion, what some oil companies promise that their extra additives extend the life of the engine or allow it to travel more kilometers is a “packaging (…) very difficult to prove.” For this reason, he regrets that the autonomous communities and municipalities continue to put “administrative obstacles and barriers” to their expansion, because although the oil companies have now been called energy or mobility companies “they want to continue milking the cow.”
The obstacles encountered by these gas stations refer to the minimum distance that they must keep with respect to new buildings: the national regulations speak of half a meter, and “it is the one that must prevail”, but in Valencia 500 meters are required and in others lugres “fifteen or fifty to limit the possibilities of unfounded development,” he denounces. Despite the growth that automatic gas stations are having (in 2015 they had a weight of only 2% of the total) and the savings they entail, Jiménez assures that the client still does not know a model that in his opinion will be the one that remains in the future.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.