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Shell FuelSave wakens memories 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

Shell’s Fuel Scientists are being rather cagey about the secret formula – Shell Efficiency improvers – inviting drivers to “guess what they do.” Doesn’t Shell know?

The adverts claim: “Our Fuel Scientists are more than satisfied with the results” described as “a remarkable benefit.”

What results????? What benefit?????

There is a clue. The blurb says “DESIGNED TO SAVE FUEL”

Is Shell claiming that FuelSave does save fuel? If so, provide testable figures. Is Shell frightened to do so. Perhaps the design has not proven successful in practice? The claim is completed unsubstantiated.

Overall assessment: BS piled upon BS.

Once again Shell is treating the public like gullible fools.

Is FuelSave being used in Syrian tanks to crush protestors engaged in non violent demonstrations?

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 “Fuel Scientists” have got it right this time.

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