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A few months ago I pulled into my local Exxon...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



A few months ago, I pulled into my local Exxon station to fill 'er up. I noticed a large tanker truck apparently delivering gas to the station's underground tanks. But there were no signs on the truck that suggested it was an Exxon truck, or that it was delivering fuel for Exxon. I wrote a letter to Exxon's headquarters asking the same question, and they answered back by saying "baddabeep, baddaboop, yamma lamma ding dong." Do you guys know the answer? -- Cy

RAY: It's funny you mention your response from Exxon, Cy. They seem to have done for public relations what Linda Tripp has done for friendship. We've found them less than responsive, too.

TOM: Fortunately, the Mobil side of the new Exxon-Mobil was happy to answer our question.

RAY: Exxon franchisees have several options for getting gasoline to their stations. They can have Exxon deliver it, in which case it comes in a large truck with the word "Exxon" plastered on the side. Or they can pick it up themselves, in which case the truck might not say anything on it.

TOM: Or it might say "Acme Milk Farms" on it if the gas station owner borrowed the truck from his neighbor, the dairy farmer.

RAY: Actually, franchisees often own groups of stations. And if they own a number of stations, they usually find it more economical to own a truck and distribute the gasoline themselves. They make the pickup arrangements with Exxon, and they pull right up to Exxon's tap at the refinery and get the same gas and additives that come in the Exxon truck.

TOM: And what's to stop them from going to Acme Milk Farms and filling up their underground tanks with 2 percent or skim? "We have ways of keeping close tabs on our franchisees," says an Exxon-Mobil spokesperson. She wouldn't disclose its monitoring methods, but did say that Exxon franchisees are absolutely required to use Exxon gasoline, and that they could lose their franchise if they were found to be buying gas from Gabe's Gas-a-Go-Go.

RAY: Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with Gabe's. But since Exxon makes a lot of money by requiring franchisees to buy gas from them, they have a powerful incentive to make sure you're getting Exxon gas from your local Exxon station.
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