Gas delivery startups want to fill up your car anywhere

Eric Newcomer
Bloomberg News

A new crop of startups is trying to make gas stations obsolete.

Tap an app, and they’ll bring the gas to you, filling up your car while you’re at work, eating breakfast or watching Netflix. Filld, WeFuel, Yoshi, Purple and Booster Fuels have started operating in a few cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Nashville and Atlanta. But officials in some of those cities say that driving around in a pickup with hundreds of gallons of gasoline might not be safe.

“It is not permitted,” said Lt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesman for the San Francisco Fire Department. Baxter said if city residents see any companies fueling vehicles in the city, they should call the fire department.

Yoshi, which operates in San Francisco, was surprised to hear Baxter’s concerns. “We haven’t talked to them. I don’t know about that. It’s news to me,” said co-founder Nick Alexander. The next day, he said he believed Yoshi was following the law and that it had been careful to limit the size of their gas tanks to stay under limits outlined in the International Fire Code, a guideline followed by many U.S. states.

Filld, an 18-month-old startup with thousands of customers in Silicon Valley, is starting delivery in San Francisco. “You can never ask for permission because no one will give it,” said Chris Aubuchon, the chief executive officer at Filld.

On a recent Monday morning, about 40 miles south of San Francisco, Aubuchon carefully drove a Ford F-250 pickup with 324 gallons of gasoline into a hospital parking garage in Palo Alto, Calif. The truck was also loaded with a gas pump, two fire extinguishers, a bucket of chalk to absorb spills, two orange traffic cones and a receipt printer. Aubuchon was looking for a silver Mini Cooper.

After a few wrong turns, he found it. The tiny car’s gas flap was, to his relief, open. Aubuchon unrolled the gas hose from a spindle in the truck bed, clutched the handle of the fuel nozzle, stuck it in the car’s tank and began filling the Mini Cooper. After six gallons, the car’s tank clicked. A printer in truck’s cab spit out a paper receipt, and he transmitted an electronic receipt to the owner of the Mini Cooper.

“The land value in the city is going up, and the gas stations are becoming more and more sparse,” Aubuchon said. “This is a disruption to a fuel industry.”

Yoshi, the company that delivers in San Francisco, was founded by two Harvard MBAs, a former Harvard law student and a former Stanford medical researcher. Booster Fuels has $12 million in funding and big purple trucks that can each carry 1,000 gallons of gas. There’s also WeFuel, which is developing technology to notify the company when a customer is running low on fuel.

The delivery startups are still experimenting with business models. Purple customers can open the company’s app and get gas within an hour, and their drivers are regular people with no special certification. Filld operates around the clock but asks customers to schedule a delivery through their app at least a few hours in advance. They employ commercial drivers who receive hazardous materials certification. Both Purple and Filld deliver to residential areas, while Yoshi and Booster are focused on filling up gas tanks in office parking lots.