One Year Later—COVID-19’s Impact on Gasoline Demand

OPIS offers NACS members a free four-week trial to track fuel volume.

March 31, 2021

Pumping Gas

By Brian Norris

ROCKVILLE, Md.—Gasoline demand has surpassed year-ago levels for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Same-store gasoline sales volumes in the U.S. took a nosedive last year during the week ended March 21, 2020, declining by 23.6% from same-week 2019 levels. The declines in subsequent weeks were even more dramatic, with the largest seen during the week ended April 11 that saw spring-2019 levels of gasoline sales volumes nearly cut in half.

For the same week this year, however, OPIS Demand data indicate that volumes surpassed 2020 levels by 10% on a same-store sales basis.

Those numbers vary widely depending on which part of the country you are located. The Southwest region surpassed 2020 volumes by 15%, with the Southeastern part of the U.S. only surpassing 2020 levels by 8.6%, largely due to many states in the Southeast not moving as quickly to mandate stay-at-home orders as the rest of the country did last year.

Despite the positive year-over-year posting, gasoline demand substantially trails 2019 pre-pandemic levels. When compared to the same week two years ago, volumes are off by 16% nationally. In fact, the demand recovery seems to have stalled, as volume deficits compared with the previous year have mostly hovered in the range of 15% to 18% below prior-year levels since the start of 2021. The declines from 2019 also vary widely by region, with the West trailing 2019 by 21.9% and the Southwest only trailing pre-COVID-19 volumes by 9.4%.

The regional disparity in gasoline demand recovery is also apparent when looking at state-level data.

California saw some of the earliest declines in gallons sold due to the West Coast largely being the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Compared to last year, gasoline sales are up 14.6% in California, however volumes still trail same-week 2019 by 22.7% on a same-store basis.

Florida, on the other hand, was not as quick to enact quarantine mandates, and the data paint a very different demand picture. Fuel retailers in Florida saw a much-smaller 6.4% increase versus last year and only trail demand levels from two years ago by 11.2%.

The question remains, how far will demand bounce back?

Insight into the impact that COVID-19 is having on overall fuel demand is a critical piece of information for fuel retailers to fully understand and navigate the current environment and track demand recovery. To help, OPIS is offering NACS members a free four-week trial to OPIS Demand, a weekly publication that tracks same-store volumes submitted directly by over 26,000 fuel stations across the United States. Available on a national, regional and state level (where available), fuel retailers can see a clear picture of how volumes are being impacted across the industry, allowing them to adjust strategy and better plan for the uncertainty to come.

Discover more information and request your free trial.

Brian Norris is executive director - Retail Data and Product Management, Oil Price Information Service (OPIS).