PHILADELPHIA Talk about sticker shock.
Motorists in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania saw gasoline prices on some stations from $8 to nearly $10 a gallon range Wednesday, as many Lukoil dealers staged a one-day protest over the wholesale prices the company is charging them.
"The reason why we are doing this is we are sick and tired of Lukoil's uncompetitive pricing," Kinnelon, New Jersey, station operator Ameer Kraff said. "Their unfair treatment gets down to our customers."
Kraff and other Lukoil station owners contend they are forced to buy gas from Lukoil at prices 10 to 20 cents a gallon higher than their competitors.
Kay Kezbari, who runs a station in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, was selling regular gas for $3.79 a gallon, just 4 cents over the $3.75 he is charged by Lukoil, he said. His competitors, meanwhile, are selling gas for $3.65, he said, and that's costing him costumers.
He used to pump as much as 300,000 to 400,000 gallons a month, but it is closer to 150,000 now, Kezbari said. "How can we survive?"
His price on Wednesday? $9.99 a gallon.
Kezbari said some customers even bought some gas - a little - in a show of support. "We are with you, so just give me two gallons," Kezbari said his customers would say.
A dealer trade group, the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store, Automotive Association, said 57 stations participated in the protest, 30 in New Jersey and 27 in Pennsylvania.
"We deeply regret that the NJGCA, a trade lobbyist, has apparently encouraged public misstatements and ill-conceived actions which harm consumers, rather than engage in constructive dialogue," Michael Lewis, vice president and general counsel of Lukoil North America, said in an emailed statement.
The company, which operates 500 service stations in the United States, is a subsidiary of Russia's OAO Lukoil, it said on its website.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)