The Center for Data Innovation spoke with the Market Transparency Unit for Fuels at Germany’s Bundeskartellamt (Federal Cartel Office), which this spring launched a fuel price database aimed at cracking down on anti-competitive behavior among fuel providers.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Travis Korte: For the benefit of those outside of Germany, could you briefly explain the fuel situation in Germany that led to the creation of the Market Transparency Unit?
Bundeskartellamt: A sector inquiry by the Bundeskartellamt in the German petrol station markets in 2011 provided significant evidence of a dominant oligopoly between the five large oil companies: BP (Aral), ConocoPhilipps (Jet), ExxonMobil (Esso), Shell and Total. The large five accounted for 65% of fuel sales in Germany, with the absence of substantial competition between them. The fuel markets were very transparent: prices could easily be observed by all market participants. All of the five companies used a system for monitoring and reporting prices which made it possible to react promptly to any changes.
TK: What sorts of data are being collected in the new database, and what sorts of analysis do you hope to be able to perform using the data?
BKA: The Market Transparency Unit for Fuels receives price changes from most gas stations in Germany. Companies which operate public petrol stations or have the power to set their prices are obliged to report price changes for the most commonly used types of fuel (Super E5, Super E10 and Diesel) “in real time” to the Market Transparency Unit for Fuels. The Market Transparency Unit for Fuels is intended to enable consumers to gain information on current fuel prices in Germany. The collected data are also meant to improve the Bundeskartellamt’s possibilities to intervene in the case of illegal predatory strategies and other forms of market power abuse.
TK: Will the data be freely available to the public? If so, what sorts of public uses do you foresee for this data besides bringing transparency to the dominant fuel companies?
BKA: The Market Transparency Unit for Fuels does not offer price information directly to the public itself. It passes the price data on to private consumer information service providers, which in turn inform the consumer. The transmission of data to the dominant fuel companies is not allowed. Until now, nine companies offer services via smartphone and internet that provide an overview of actual gasoline prices to consumers. Most of these services are freely available. Motorists can compare the prices and choose the cheapest gas station nearby or along a route. In the future, such services might be integrated into car navigation systems.
TK: Tell me about some of the Bundeskartellamt’s other data-related efforts. For example, are there similar real-time databases for monitoring other industries besides fuel?
BKA: Together with the Federal Network Agency the Bundeskartellamt monitors developments in the electricity and gas markets. In the future the Bundeskartellamt and the Federal Network Agency will monitor the electricity and gas wholesale markets within a joint Market Transparency Unit.
Photo: Flickr user Daniel Pisaro