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Champion of Choice

Sunoco Inc. has long been a champion of alternative fuels, evidenced by the ownership of its ethanol plant in New York State, relationship with NASCAR and INDYCAR, and its E85 offering at the pump.

But the company truly stepped it up a notch this year when it reopened an APlus convenience store near Pittsburgh International Airport that features three compressed natural gas (CNG) pumps, one single-sided liquid propane pump and three electric charging stations — the first Sunoco location to offer three alternative fuels. Diesel and traditional E10 gasoline are also available at the location.

This innovative site, as well as Sunoco’s plans to offer CNG at more Pennsylvania locations, earned the retailer the Convenience Store News 2015 Fuels Innovator of the Year award.

“It’s an honor to be chosen Fuels Innovator of the Year. It’s something Sunoco is really proud of,” said Drew Kabakoff, Sunoco’s director of brand marketing. “Every day, Sunoco employees work very hard to bring high-quality and high-performance fuels to market. And, when we have the opportunity to provide more choices to customers for their vehicles, we take that challenge very seriously.”

Ensuring Sunoco standards was critical in developing the alternative fuel program, explained Mark Borosky, Sunoco’s manager of retail engineering. “That means providing customers with a fast, full-fill of CNG, while focusing on the fuel quality with drying and filtration. All sites are also designed to accept fleet cards and capable of expanding as the market demands.”

Sunoco spokesperson Jeff Shields added Sunoco always strives to meet the needs of its customers. “Whatever fuel they need, we have tried to provide that for them,” he said.

The Pittsburgh site, which opened May 20, has been a success thus far, according to both Kabakoff and Borosky. As for why Sunoco ratcheted up its efforts to offer alternative fuels, Borosky said it is important for forward-looking companies like Sunoco to put this type of program in place and see what the results will be.

“It is difficult to predict the market when you’re entering new territory,” added Kabakoff. “Our goal was to establish a great, dynamic program at one of our signature locations. We will see how the market develops, but we have been pleased with the volume so far.

“The location looks great and is built to exceptionally high retail standards. There is a real focus toward delivering great products quickly and efficiently to our customers,” Kabakoff continued. “We are optimistic about the future [of this location] and certainly glad we did it.”

On the retail end, the location near Pittsburgh International Airport works because of the number of limousines, taxis and shuttle fleets that constantly escort airline passengers to and from the airport. Many of these fleets can consider switching to alternative-fuel vehicles — if they have not done so already — and take advantage of prices that are oftentimes less expensive than traditional petroleum fuels, noted Borosky.

One fleet to take advantage of Sunoco’s CNG offering is Veterans’ Taxi. The Pittsburgh startup company’s slogan is “Proud to serve you … again,” and its drivers are all military veterans.

“As we started offering CNG pumps, the owners of the organization have been very supportive because they say it creates business opportunities for veterans; independent entrepreneurs who can start a taxi business at a very low cost of entry,” said Shields. “We were really gratified when we heard that.”


Pittsburgh isn’t Sunoco’s first foray into alternative fuels. It first opened a CNG location in November 2014 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, east of Pittsburgh in New Stanton, Pa., offering CNG to customers both on and off the Turnpike.

Despite a high cost of entry, Sunoco will also open additional alternative fuel sites. In fact, Kabakoff revealed to CSNews that two sites have been recently approved to offer CNG by late 2015 or early 2016 in Central and Western Pennsylvania.

When deciding if and where to open future alternative fuel sites, Kabakoff said locations with existing fleets and high-traffic locations are the two main criteria.

“There are many fleets in this area and we are giving them a place where they know they can refuel,” he said.

“It’s a win-win for both companies,” added Borosky. “Fleets in these areas no longer need to go 20 minutes out of their way to refuel.”

Among alternative fuels, Kabakoff believes CNG has the potential for long-term success due to its cost structure and availability of supply in the Northeast. “Ultimately, the customer has to demand CNG for their vehicles,” he stressed however.

Price differential at the pump will be the main factor determining how viable CNG is for the future, acknowledged Shields. “Someone will not invest a ton of money buying or converting vehicles to CNG unless they believe there will be a cost benefit in the long term.”


Although CNG tends to get the most press in the alternative fuel space due to its local abundance and it being touted as cleaner burning and cheaper at the pump compared to traditional petroleum, electric charging is garnering its fair share of headlines, mostly due to the popularity of Tesla vehicles. In fact, the new $130,000 Tesla Model S P85D earned the first perfect 100 grade ever handed out by Consumer Reports in August.

Sunoco’s Pittsburgh location offers three electric chargers, two of which are Level 2 chargers that require multiple hours of charging time, and one Level 3 charger that can fully charge a vehicle in a rapid 20-minute timeframe.

The Sunoco location transitioned to an app-based payment system for electric charging in September, enabling users to purchase charging time online. Sunoco receives remittance from a third-party company when customers purchase time and use the electric chargers.

The Pittsburgh location also enjoys an added benefit: Customers utilizing electric chargers tend to spend time on-site and purchase in-store items at the APlus c-store, reported Borosky.

“The convenience store that’s there offers prepared food, restaurant seating and additional restrooms,” he said. “We are encouraging people who can wait to recharge their vehicle to eat and then go back on their merry way.”

The Pittsburgh location has dedicated parking for electric charging customers so that the service does not affect its other c-store or gasoline customers.

Sunoco executives will be on hand to accept the Fuels Innovator of the Year award on Dec. 7 at the Convenience Store News Fuels & Tech Summit in Riviera Beach, Fla.

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