Neste pumps work around the clock

  • 1999-02-04
  • Sandra L. Medearis
RIGA - Finnish oil and gas refiner and retailer Neste will pump millions of liters of gas and 20 million lats ($35 million) into the Baltics in the next five years to bring the number of 24-hour, automated filling stations to 120.

Motorists will pump too, day or night.

Latvia will have 40 of the A-24 Automats, Lithuania 50 and Estonia, 30. Neste currently has 53 stations in the Baltics of which 13 are automated. Customers will be able to buy gas anytime and pay with credit cards, Maestro debit cards, coins or bank notes. The machines will give change.

Not only will the A-24 Automats save motorists the rush to fill up before closing time, but they should be easier on the pocket, said Arvo Ruotsalainen, Neste's retail director for the Baltic states.

"The automated stations cost less by as much as half to build and less to operate than service stations with car washes and convenience stores. Pricing at automatic stations will be different, depending on the market, less per liter by 1 santim or more."

Cars in the Baltics consume about 630 million liters of fuel annually. Neste sells 7 percent of it. Market research tells the company it can raise its market share to 10 percent. Surveys say that customers choose stations by fuel quality most, followed by low price and quick fills.

"Automated stations can satisfy all three," Ruotsalainen said. "Our expansion of market share will go in that direction."

The company brings in the components, much as Lego blocks, Ruotsalainen said, and pays local workers to build them quickly. Neste has six automated stations operating in Riga. Three more will open in March.

Ruotsalainen noted that the market was not as ready for automated stations in 1996, when customers valued quality, followed by kindness and good treatment from company employees and price, with no mention of quick fill-ups.

Neste, part of the Finnish energy group Fortum, has spent about $50 million in Latvia including the cost of the Riga Terminal opened in autumn of 1998.

Finland established Neste Oy in 1948 to secure its oil supply. In 1957, the company built its own refineries in Finland. In the 1990s Neste expanded its exploration to the North Sea and Middle East, and branched into the Baltics as it built service stations, numbering almost 100 so far, along the Baltic Rim from Poland to St. Petersburg.