Andrew Colley 04 March 2016

From today, Australian motorists will for the first time have access to a smartphone app that lets them use crowdsourcing to hunt down cheap fuel.

GasBuddy, a smartphone app that has been downloaded 56 million times in North America, today officially launched in Australia — the first time the app has been made available outside the US and Canada.

The app, available on Android and iOS,  lets motorists report fuel prices to each other in real-time with the help of location information and a software algorithm designed to ensure information fed into the system is accurate.

Motorists in the US and Canada generate around 15 million fuel price reports per month using the app and the company is hoping to repeat its success in Australia.

GasBuddy needs to scale quickly in order to be effective and the company’s Australian manager Nic Moulis said that trials in the Sydney market — involving fewer than a thousand testers — had been successful. GasBuddy was aiming to have the app in the hands of around 500,000 Australian motorists within a year, he said.

“In our view, the first few weeks of download will be strong and the consumer will directly engage directly with this product and our product will start to get smarter and smarter,” Mr Moulis said.

However, Mr Moulis conceded that the company would be relying on an unnamed third-party data supplier to support the app through its initial phase.

It also has a deal in place with taxi industry disrupter Uber to place the app in 50,000 of its vehicles and it plans to spend $36,000 on fuel giveaways to entice motorists to use it.

Unlike many technology companies GasBuddy started a long way from Silicon Valley and its headquarters is located in Canada’s Saskatchewan capital, Regina.

GasBuddy started in 2000 as a community fuel price sharing website created by two Canadian university students, Dustin Coupal and Jason Toews.

In 2008 the GasBuddy website was converted into an app and subscriptions skyrocketed. In 2013, petroleum information pricing firm Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) — a subsidiary of business information specialist firm Universal Communications Group (UCG) — acquired GasBuddy in a private deal.

UCG was currently funding GasBuddy’s push to go global, Mr Moulis said.

GasBuddy’s entrance to the Australian market is auspicious. In December 2015 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) settled a Federal Court dispute with online fuel price exchange information provider Informed Sources.

Under the terms of the settlement, Informed Sources accepted an undertaking to make data, from key clients including BP Australia, Caltex Australia, Coles Express, Woolworths and 7-Eleven, available to motorists by May 2016.

While location specific, 30 to 40 entities ranging from large organisations to backyard developers have shown strong interest in feeding that information into a slew of smartphone applications.

The source of the dispute between Informed Sources and the ACCC is complex and has a long history. The ACCC’s leadership has taken vastly differing positions on the role of Informed Sources role in fuel pricing competition.

Former ACCC chairman Graeme Samuels led a six-month pricing inquiry, which was released in 2007. It found that Informed Sources’ service could distort the market by giving petrol companies and their retail outlets information ahead of consumers and other non-subscribing rivals.

The ACCC supported reducing price among retailers but given it was too costly to replace Informed Sources it referred the matter to the federal government.

The Rudd government instead chose to adopt Western Australia’s then FuelWatch petrol price monitoring model nationally.

The ACCC reported that the competitive effectiveness of FuelWatch in WA were “divergent” in its 2007 report.

The government abandoned the legislation in 2008 after WA Senator Nick Xenophon sided against Labor and the Greens, and withdrew support for it in the Senate.

Under chairman Rod Sims, the ACCC took steps to reduce price-sharing information among retailers starting with legal action against Informed Sources.

Mr Sims was concerned that sharing the data could lead to price signalling.

The ACCC settled with Informed Sources and five clients including BP Australia, Caltex Australia, Coles Express, Woolworths and 7-Eleven after attaining agreement that they would make their pricing data available to consumers by May.

Informed Sources has told media that up to 30 entities have expressed interest in using the data.

Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.