Thursday, July 24, 2008

Consumer Survey

The other day I responded to one of those e-mail surveys on consumer preferences. They asked me if I had access to a vehicle, and that qualified me to do the survey. They didn't ask me if the vehicle had wings.

The brands of gasoline available to aircraft are generally the same as those available to cars, so the survey proceeded fairly normally through me checking boxes for all the brands I'd heard of, and the brands I'd used for my last five purchases. They wanted to know what other services I'd used where I had last stopped for gas. Using the washroom, buying maps, buying oil were all on the list. They didn't have a checkbox for oxygen service, but they had an "other" box for me to fill it in.

They wanted to know when I last visited a Phillips 66 service station, how much did I spend on fuel, to the nearest dollar? I remembered the number because I had just entered it on my expense account. I put in 188 US gallons for $1003 and change. So I typed in 1003. The webform rejects it. The number must be between 1 and 999. I giggle and enter 999.

And from there the survey gets weird. They start asking me for my impression of various gas stations, as if I have some kind of personal relationship with the place, or have done extensive research. They're asking me which brand of gas is better for my engine, gives more power, better economy or is more environmentally friendly. I'm confused. I was under the impression that it was all gas. I honestly thought it all came through the same pipelines before it was pumped into the delivery trucks with different coloured paint jobs. I keep saying to the screen, "No, it's just GAS!" As long as it isn't mixed with diesel or contaminated with water, it burns fine. The target consumer has a much deeper commitment to his or her service station than I do.

They ask me what Techron does. They have an array of about forty possibly functions of the additive. I don't check any of them and fill in the other blank with "it's a marketing ploy."

How likely, they ask me, am I to return to the last Phillips 66 station for my next fill. Considering it's 800 nm away, and I'm going the other way, it's very unlikely. I think my responses won't be very useful in formulating their next marketing campaign. But I got some entertainment out of it. And I hope you did, too.


chris said...

As you noted, gasoline is a fungible commodity which is typically transported over long distances in common pipelines which are shared with other producers. When a company pumps gasoline into a pipeline system at one end, there's no guarantee or expectation that the exact same gallons of gasoline will be delivered at the receiving end. The only expectation is that the receiving end will get gasoline of the same grade.

But some companies do mix in proprietary additives to their brand of gasoline after it comes out of the pipelines (before it goes onto the trucks). So things like "Techron" aren't necessarily just marketing gimmicks, though in some cases they may be.

crazyscot said...

100LL has to have its own pipelines, delivery trucks, even refinery vessels because of its lead content; it would contaminate mogas. This is a factor in why it's so expensive. (UK price currently around £1.65/litre, ouch...)

Anonymous said...

With the growing use of Mogas in aircraft engines and homebuilts, there is also a lot of concern about ethanol additives by autogas vendors - which require no notice to consumers.

I haven't found even a hint of water in my fuel tanks for quite a while and I'm actually getting suspicious that whatever there might be could be getting absorbed by the ethanol ...

There is a test to determine if gasoline has ethanol added, but then what do I do? Stop flying? Switch to 100LL which actually has too much lead for my engine long term?

Maybe it's time to switch to pedal-powered flight?

Anonymous said...

crazyscott - I don't know about the UK, but in Canada 100LL is regularly pumped through pipelines that also carry mogas of various octanes, diesel, and Jet A. The trick is they use pigs and/or chemical separators between streams of fuel to separate it at the other end. Building separate pipelines for each products is ludicrous...

And Chris is correct - most big name companies add proprietary additives that DO have an effect prior to delivering their fuel at gas stations. However, due to the highly regulated nature of aviation this does not occur with 100LL or Jet A or B. In fact at both airports I've worked at all the major vendors (including Shell, Esso, + Chevron) drew their fuel from the exact same tank farms. With the exception of adding Prist or some other FSII, they're all delivering the same stuff to your airplane (barring contamination from the fuel truck of course).

Anonymous said...

I've found that a gallon of gasoline can vary in its energy content - when I fill up the car at an offbrand station, I often get worse gas mileage then if I fill up at a name brand...


Anonymous said...

You're temtping an old man, I'll trim down the plethora of responses.
We used "gasahol" in Nebraska after the Seventies gas cutoffs. Tended to suck in too much atmospheric moisture, accoring to the experts, leading to lowered efficiency and even rust in steel tanks and engines which would sit idle for long periods like agricultural machinery.

And the war story:
My Guard unit was still flying "Jolly Green Giants" and had made a rescue down of the coast of Baja California. The refuel Hercs (C-130's) turned back and went home, andnthe two helos would refuel at Mexican airports using their orders and an official fax frmo their Federal Government as usual for credit.
They landed at a small field as cleared by civilian control (probably related to the fuel seller there), fueled up at the one with the "SHELL" sign on it, and presented their bona fides.
"No". Manager shook his head. He wasn't giving thousands of dollars of free JP-4 (Jet-A nowadays, I guess)to a sweaty guy waving a fax, and a gringo to boot.
The commander of the lead aircraft opened his wallet to show his military ID and retreive hs folded oprders, and the manager stopped him.
So they refuled two Jolly's on the Colonel's Shell credit card. He kept the framed bill on his office wall until he transferred to a LSD 9large steel desk) at State HQ.