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Shell FuelSave reminiscent of Formula Shell debacle

By John Donovan

Here we are again in the midst of a major Shell advertising campaign with huge colour adverts in the UK national press for a new Shell wonder fuel, this time invented by “Shell Fuel Scientists”: Its called Shell FuelSave

Its like a walk down memory lane for those of us who remember the launch of another wonder fuel by Shell in 1986, Formula Shell, based on new technology and with a scientific image deliberately conjured up by Shell.

There was only one small problem. The new wonder fuel ruined many car engines and it did so on an international basis.

Here is a video clip from the Formula Shell advertising blitz when everything looked promising.


I have been unable to find any media reports of the subsequent debacle. Shell news management team must have been working overtime.

However, we have an account by Shell historians.

Extracts from pages 204 & 207 from ‘A History of Royal Dutch Shell, volume 3.’

To create brand distinctiveness, Shell launched two new brands on the basis of new technology and supported by heavy advertising. Helix motor oil in 1985 and Formula Shell in 1986.  The word Formula in the new brand for gasoline was chosen for its scientific connotations. Also, it appeared unchanged in many languages, which was important for international advertising.

In the UK, Formula Shell was launched with the punchline:

‘From today not all petrol is the same.’

The launch of Formula Shell in Europe resulted in higher sales. This early commercial success, however, became qualified when it appeared that in a small number of cars the new gasoline caused inlet values to burn. Negative publicity was inevitable, though the damage occurred in only four countries, Denmark, Norway, Malaysia, and the UK.

It took Shell technical experts in collaboration with the motor manufacturers more than a year to establish the cause of the problem. In the meantime, the Formula Shell brand was withdrawn from a number of markets, including the UK.  Once the problem had been identified, the product was reformulated and relaunched, in some markets under a new brand name.

The degree of spin is self-evident – damage in ONLY four countries…

Lets hope for the sake of the motoring public that Shell boffins have got it right this time.


Shell false claims over FuelSave featured on BBC TV Watchdog programme: 21 October 2011

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  1. Mark says:

    Anecdotal evidence and that’s the best you can do? Two vehicles out of 1000s, maybe 100s of thousands. Shell maybe sh÷t, but there must be more to support such claims. Where is it?

  2. Matt Hancock (ICE1) says:

    Formula Shell was also a disaster here in New Zealand. It caused many issues in vehicles and was removed from sale along with all advertising material.

  3. schnitzer says:

    We have a 2003 Facelift Freelander TD4 HSE, it has run normally and as expected until we filled the vehicle with the new Shell Fuel Save Diesel on Saturday 24th July, 2010, since then the revs are all over the place, the vehicle hesitant when start/stopping at places like roundabouts, struggling at higher speeds on the motorway, really feels bad. The car was checked on Saturday last, no faults were highlighted on the computer, but you could hear that the vehicle was not happy. Then a BMW X3 diesel came in ! same engine, same shell fuel, same problem, also nothing reporting on the computer system. Hopefully, a tank of the sainsburys taste the difference will clear the shell. Fingers crossed.

  4. Roland says:

    I am getting anecdotal but surprisingly consistent reports of problems with FuelSave on my website (scroll down to see the comments), following an article I wrote after the press launch.

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