Premium gas sales tank as fuel prices rise

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Ernesto Evangelista prefers to pump premium gas into his seven-month-old Nissan Titan, thinking it makes the truck run better.

But at a BP station just a few blocks from the sand of Miami Beach, the 33-year-old painter grabbed the handle for the regular, 87-octane gas to fill his tank on a recent Friday.

'Premium is just too expensive,' he said. 'Nobody can afford to fill up with premium anymore.'

With rising fuel prices pushing the national average for premium to $4.48 a gallon - about 40 cents higher than regular - motorists like Evangelista are buying less of it, industry statistics show.

Demand for high-octane fuel is at its lowest in nearly a quarter of a century and is now primarily consumed by a core group of luxury vehicle owners - and even some of them are putting lower-grade fuel into their tanks to save money.

In 1997, high-octane garnered 16 percent of the nationwide fuel market share, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Last month, premium had only 8 percent of the market. Last year, premium gasoline consumption fell to about 35.6 million gallons of gas per day, the lowest in 24 years, the agency said.