Esso and Price Watch to go

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Esso is planning a major marketing shake-up that could see UK petrol stations re-branded as "Exxon" and the "Price Watch" scheme abandoned.

Speculation over the changes is rife among members of the Petrol Retailers' Association (PRA), many of whom operate Esso sites. According to several station operators, the parent company has been sluggish about refurbishing its forecourts, despite high-profile efforts from competitors like BP. Industry experts, including PRA director Ray Holloway, believe it is in preparation for a massive re-branding effort to be unveiled early next year.

Although the Esso brand is well established in the UK, the parent company – fresh from its merger with Mobil – is thought by US analysts to be eager to establish a single global brand.

"Any re-shuffle would almost certainly see the end of the Price Watch scheme," said one senior analyst, "I expect it to be quietly abandoned by Christmas."

The Price Watch scheme, which guarantees motorists competitive prices, was a major selling point when Esso used its dominance to offer low prices. Now the lead in petrol pricing is more often taken by the supermarkets, which do not suffer the same storage and transport costs.