PACIFIC • A local company wants to make pumping gas as easy as buying a burger in the drive-through lane.
Husky Corp., a manufacturer of fuel nozzles and accessories, is working on a robotic fuel pump that fills gas tanks without drivers’ setting foot outside the car. It hopes to have the equipment installed on some local gas pumps in six to nine months.
“If you think about going to McDonald’s, a lot of people go to the drive-through. Same at the bank,” said Brad Baker, executive vice president of Husky.
His company wants to extend that concept to fueling up by allowing drivers to stay in their cars, having to stick their hand out only to use a touch screen to swipe credit and debit cards and choose the grade of gas, or maybe even use a smartphone app.
“It does have a wide appeal on days it’s really cold,” he said, a timely remark given the recent frigid snap that has included subzero temperatures.
Here’s how it would work: A robotic suction arm opens the fuel door. The nozzle is then extended into the fuel neck through a capless insert, and fuel is pumped using a vacuum-based automatic shutoff. Owners of some cars, most of them older models, would have to buy the $5 capless insert.
The system will need further safety testing, including for fire safety, before it’s ready for use, Baker said.
It comes with a price tag expected to be $50,000 per pump for retailers, Baker said. He declined to say how much the company had invested in creating the system but said plans had been in the works for about a year and a half. The company is developing the system in partnership with Sweden’s Fuelmatics Systems AB.
The idea has been tested by other companies but has never taken off.
“Consumers will always chase convenience,” said Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. “The challenge is predicting which convenience they chase.”
But people buying gas want the cheapest price, and customers could be turned off from using the system if retailers impose a fee for the convenience of staying in the driver’s seat, he said.
Still, he said the system could appeal to an aging population and to drivers who just want to unwind for four minutes, the average time people spend at the pump.
And it could give people a little extra time they might use to go inside stores and buy a sandwich or other items, and that would be appealing to retailers, Lenard said.
The prospect of staying in a warm car instead of braving a bitter wind sounded good to drivers Thursday whose gas tanks were in need of replenishment.
Marlene Dickerman, 71, of Pacific, said she paid attention to where she could buy gas at the lowest prices. She paused when asked if she’d consider using a robotic fueling system.
“If it was competitive in price, then sure,” she said. She would not pay extra for the convenience of avoiding getting out of her car.
Garrett Kisling, 25, also of Pacific, said he’d be willing to try it so long as it didn’t come with a fee.
“I guess I’d use it if I didn’t have to stand in this,” he said, shivering and coatless.