The French fuel sector is on fire. Since Saturday September 16, and the government’s announcement of wanting to temporarily allow the sale of gasoline at a loss, independent pump attendants, large retailers and Total have shared their incomprehension, when it is not their anger.
The executive actually wishes to lift “exceptionally” the ban on this commercial practice, from December 1 and for six months (assuming of course that the measure is adopted in the National Assembly in October).
A decision driven by three objectives for the government. On the one hand, play on gasoline prices to try to preserve the purchasing power of French motorists, on the other hand, shift the responsibility for the fuel bill to distributors. Finally, do not finance fossil fuels in an ostentatious manner, while the executive strives to implement the transition to electricity.
Concern for independent pump attendants
The announcement immediately came under fire from fuel players. Independent pump attendants (i.e. service stations which do not depend on a distribution brand) see the announcement as a boon for supermarkets, for whom fuel is a loss leader. Indeed, the lower and more attractive its price, the more customers would go there and convert their presence into purchases of other goods. “We would not have the means to compensate for a drop in the price of fuel,” warns an independent gas station attendant from Moselle.
In reaction, Bruno Le Maire recalled “that independent stations will benefit from compensation” and that they will be “accompanied by a multi-year transformation plan aimed at allowing them to offer new services such as fast charging stations”.
Reluctance of major distributors
However, the major distributors have made their calculations and refuse to take advantage of the opportunity. According to Le Figaro, summoned on Tuesday September 19 in Bercy by the Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire, the managers of Leclerc, Carrefour, Intermarché, Système U, Casino and Auchan thus expressed their unanimous opposition to resale at a loss. fuel in their hypermarket parking lots.
Heard by the Economic Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, Philippe Michaud, co-president of the E.Leclerc group and Thierry Cotillard, president of the Mousquetaires/Intermarché, reiterated their statements the next day. Dominique Schelcher, CEO of the 4th largest player in the Système U sector, indicated that he did not plan “to carry out massive sales operations at a loss”.
“Don’t open Pandora’s box”
The ban “on resale at a loss has been a very important principle of commerce since 1963,” said the CEO of Carrefour, Alexandre Bompard, also president of the Federation of Commerce and Distribution (FCD), which represents a large part of the sector, adding that “we must not open this Pandora’s box at the risk of weakening both the balance of the sectors and territorial equity between consumers”.
“So as far as we are concerned, the Carrefour group – since we cannot consult together, you know – (…) we will not sell at a loss, we will continue to carry out operations at cost price, because we cannot sell at a loss,” he further declared.
Total continues to cap at €1.99
As for the CEO of TotalEnergies, Patrick Pouyanné, he refuses to sell his fuels at a loss and “will not go lower” than the current price of €1.99 per liter currently set in his group’s service stations in France, said he warned Tuesday September 19.
“1.99 is a ceiling, TotalEnergies’ policy will be ensured. I won’t go any lower. It’s already a significant effort,” declared Patrick Pouyanné, interviewed by a journalist from the “Quotidien” program. “This ceiling applies in approximately 3,000 stations today. So that means that the normal price is higher,” he added. “Do you often sell products at a loss? he asked his interviewer. “A little common sense, thank you,” he concluded.
The oil group, which manages a third of the service stations in France, announced last week that it would extend next year the cap at 1.99 euros per liter on the price of gasoline and diesel in its 3,400 stations, “as long as prices remain high”.