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Today Neste's network of unmanned stations comprises 60 stations, and by the end of the year the network of Neste A24 stations will include 100 stations. Currently, 10 new self-service A24 stations are under construction.
Fortum has the leading network of unmanned stations in the Baltic countries and Poland. "Our aim is to increase the number of unmanned stations to 200 within the next couple of years," the company said in a press release. Fortum and the Finnish trade and service company Rautakirja have agreed that the convenience stores of 23 Neste service stations in Estonia and Latvia will in the future be operated by Rautakirja.
In Estonia, the convenience stores will be operated by Lehti-Maja Eesti AS, a subsidiary of Rautakirja. The convenience stores will be under the "R-kiosk' brand. In Latvia, the stores will be operated by Rautakirja's local subsidiary or an associated company to be agreed upon later.
Neste explained this decision as the need to focus on fuel trade.
"So far, we've had good experiences in operating unmanned stations in the Baltic countries and Poland. We've received enthusiastic feedback from our customers, and in this new situation we will continue to offer our customers bargain-priced fuel quickly and conveniently as well as services which are in line with our own convenience store concept," states Kai Lauren, executive vice president at Oil Retail, Baltic Rim.
The Neste Latvija retail director said that the new arrangement will guarantee to customers the best of services.
Clients will still be able to pay for their purchases with Neste cards as they'll be valid not only in A24 gas stations but also in stores and car-washes. Gasoline prices in Neste A24 stations in Latvia are always a few santims cheaper than in full-service stations.
Another fuel retailer, Hydro-Texaco, sold all its Estonian service stations to AS Grekond, which so far has operated mainly in the wholesale distribution of fuel. The decision was made according to the company's strategy to develop a chain of self-service gas stations only under the Uno X trademark.
"We believe the automatic stations will be the most competitive concept in the future," said Odd Sahlberg, Hydro-Texaco Latvia managing director. The company is also planning to sell its five full-service stations in Latvia. However, he declined to name the buyer, saying that "no agreement has been reached yet." Hydro-Texaco has five UNO X service stations and plans to build up to 12 stations next year.
Although five service stations in Estonia's Valga, Viljandi, Vandra, Parnu and Tallinn have been sold, they will continue to carry the Hydro-Texaco trademark for a transition period, Hydro-Texaco Estonia sales director Andres Kivistik told the Baltic News Service.
"We have 15 automated stations at the moment. Recently, we launched the construction of our 16th station in Narva, and construction will start soon also in Paldiski and Tartu," Kivistik said.
By the end of next year or mid-2002, Hydro-Texaco, which aspires for a place among the leaders on the Estonian fuel market, wants to bring up the number of its self-service stations to 30. In Lithuania, Hydro-Texaco has 40 service stations, Sahlberg said.
One of the Baltic market leaders, Norwegian Statoil, has started the construction of its first unmanned filling station near the corner of Parnu maantee and Vabaduse puiestee streets in Tallinn, which it hopes to finish by year's end.
Epp Kiviaed, director general of Statoil's Estonian operation, told BNS that the new gas station is a pilot project whose success will determine whether Statoil will build more self-service stations here.
"We don't yet have a corresponding wider project and our future course depends on the results (of the first unmanned station)," Kiviaed said.
The station is planned to be completed in December, but depending on the weather conditions it may be delayed somewhat, she said.
Statoil already has a service station in the immediate vicinity of the new facility.