Friesacher builds budget petrol station in Slovenia

The head of a cut-price petrol station company has revealed expansion plans.

Free Energy Trading (FE) boss Markus Friesacher said today (Weds) his enterprise started constructing a new no-frills service station in Slovenia. It is the first time that FE gets active abroad. The company currently manages 30 low-cost petrol stations across Austria. Customers pay by credit or bank card at the stations which do not offer any extra services like a shop, car wash facilities or toilets. “We invest a third less in our stations than our rivals do,” the ex-Formula 3000 pilot claimed.

Friesacher told the Salzburger Nachrichten today that his business – which was launched three years ago – was already profitable. He said that regular petrol stations situated near FE service stations were usually lowering their prices. Asked for his secret of success, the businessman said he was trying to underbid them by 1.5 to 2.5 Eurocents per litre regardless of the general price levels.

Diesel fuel cost 1.45 Euros on average in Austria at the beginning of this week, according to ÖAMTC. The drivers’ club said that the price for one litre of the Eurosuper fuel brand ranged around 1.51 Euros. ÖAMTC and other motorists’ associations criticised the country’s established petrol station chains for raising their prices last weekend. The organisations said this had nothing to do with global mineral oil trading developments but only with the start of the Easter break.

Friesacher, who cooperates with discount supermarket Hofer, said he would keep his investments as low as possible by building efficient petrol stations which needed no staff. “We focus on what matters,” the FE boss said, adding that around one in 10 drivers were currently filling their vehicles at automatic discount petrol stations.

“Seventy per cent of drivers in France are already using such petrol stations,” he told the Salzburger Nachrichten. Friesacher said this type of filling station could have a market share of 25 to 30 per cent in Austria in five years’ time. He denied that elderly people might not manage to use his service stations’ facilities. Friesacher claimed that everyone who knew how credit and bank cards worked would also understand his company’s automatic payment concept.

People’s Party’s (ÖVP) Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner reacted to the mounting criticism of car clubs like ÖAMTC and Arbö by ordering the creation of a car fuel price comparison platform last summer. The eagerly awaited website was available with a delay of one day in August as it collapsed due to immense traffic shortly after a first attempt to put it online.

Energy sector watchdog E-Control was assigned by the minister – whose party forms a coalition with the Austrian Social Democrats (SPÖ) – to set up the homepage ( ÖAMTC and Arbö started similar online services some years ago to help drivers in finding the most affordable petrol station in their vicinity in times of two-digit price jumps.

There are 2,575 service stations in Austria at the moment, down from 2,700 in 2011. Internationally operating oil and gas group OMV AG dominates the field with 407 stations. BP (397), Eni / Agip (302) and Shell (271) are strongly represented in the alpine country too.

Petrol stations in Austria achieve a profit of one Eurocent per litre of fuel they sell, according to research. Comparably high taxes, rents and other fees keep them from raking in more by selling petrol. Companies operating in the trade have reacted by improving their facilities. Many of them have managed to raise their earnings by expanding the product range of their shops from newspapers and basic car equipment to fresh sandwiches, cosmetics, toys and souvenirs.