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National Survey Sheds Light on Consumers' Views on Fuels

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A recent survey from NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, found that low gas prices and a good economy go hand-in-hand in consumers' minds.

According to the NACS Consumer Fuels Survey, 84 percent of consumers say that low gas prices are good for the economy, a one-point drop from 2016. 

U.S. consumers also say that gas prices would have to increase to $3.37 per gallon before they reduce the amount they drive and reach $4.43 per gallon before they seek out alternatives to driving or drive drastically less.

"These findings are in line with what we traditionally find in our monthly surveys: Consumers say that prices have to increase by about a dollar per gallon from its current price before they consider cutting back," said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard.

"Gradual price increases also gradually push up the price at which they would drive less and it would take a sudden, unexpected price increase before most drivers would consider driving less," he added.

According to NACS, gas prices tend to increase during the first few months of the year as the petroleum industry undergoes the spring transition to summer-blend fuel. The switch requires the production of unique fuel blends across the United States at a time of increased demand. 

Since 2000, this transition has led to an average price increase of 53 cents between early February and the seasonal peak, which most often occurs in late May.

By a more than two-to-one margin drivers understand the dynamics of the spring transition: 48 percent say that they agree that prices increase over the spring months because different fuel blends must be made and distributed for summer months. Only 21 percent disagree with that statement, according to the association.

Other findings from the NACS survey include:

  • Consumers say that prices are more likely to increase because of world events as opposed to a local store trying to increase profits: 29 percent say OPEC is to blame when oil prices increase, compared to only 4 percent who blame gas stations.
  • A majority of Americans (57 percent) agree that most gas stations are small businesses even if they sell the fuel from a national brand. One in four Americans disagree with that statement. Overall, 58 percent of gas station in the U.S. are one-store operations.
  • Consumers say that convenience stores share their values: 66 percent agree that c-stores share their values and do business the right way compared to 34 percent who disagree with that statement.
  • Consumers say that gas station profits are slim: 43 percent agree that gas stations make about 5 cents per gallon in profit, compared to 21 percent who disagree. Gross margins on fuel average about 20 cents per gallon and after expenses most retailers average about 5 cents per gallon in profit.

The survey results were released today as part of the 2016 NACS Retail Fuels Report, which examines conditions and trends that could impact gasoline prices. The survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,114 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed Jan. 4-6, 2017. 

Alexandria-based NACS represents the convenience store industry, and has 2,100 retailer and 1,750 supplier members from more than 50 countries. C-stores sell an estimated 80 percent of gas in the U.S. There are more than 154,000 stores across the country selling fuel, food and merchandise, serving 160 million customers daily — half of the U.S. population. The industry has sales that are 10.8 percent of total U.S. retail and foodservice sales. 

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