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By Stephen Nellis
(Reuters) - Apple Inc wants you to start buying gas directly from your car dashboard as early as this fall, when the newest version of its CarPlay software rolls out, accelerating the company's push to turn your vehicle into a store for goods and services.
A new feature quietly unveiled at Apple's developer conference this month will allow CarPlay users to tap an app to navigate to a pump and buy gas straight from a screen in the car, skipping the usual process of inserting or tapping a credit card. Details of Apple's demo for developers have not previously been reported.
But Dallas-based HF Sinclair, which markets its gasoline at 1,600 stations in the United States, told Reuters that it plans to use the new CarPlay technology and will announce details in coming months.
"We are excited by the idea that consumers could navigate to a Sinclair station and purchase fuel from their vehicle navigation screen," said Jack Barger, the company's senior vice president of marketing.
Fuel apps are just the latest in a sustained push by Apple to make it possible to tap to buy from the navigation screen. It has already opened up CarPlay to apps for parking, electric vehicle charging and ordering food, and it also is adding driving task apps such as logging mileage on business trips.
Fuel is a major expense for car owners. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated in April that the average U.S. household will spend about $2,945 on gasoline in 2022, or about $455 more than last year.
Apple currently does not charge automakers, developers or users for CarPlay; the business interest is putting Apple at the forefront as cars transform into rolling computers, said Horace Dediu, an analyst with Asymco and founder of Micromobility Industries. The new feature will hit hundreds of car models already compatible with CarPlay when Apple releases software updates this fall.
"Forget about Apple Car - Apple CarPlay is a bigger deal," Dediu said. "It's very likely to scale to millions and millions of cars, if not hundreds of millions."
To use the new CarPlay feature this fall, iPhone users will need to download a fuel company's app to their phone and enter payment credentials to set up the app. After the app is set up, users will be able to tap on their navigation screen to activate a pump and pay.
"It's a massive marketplace, and consumers really want to take friction out of payments," said Donald Frieden, chief executive officer of Houston-based P97 Networks, which makes the digital plumbing that many fuel companies will use to connect their apps to cars.
Frieden said he has fielded calls from oil companies that are interested to make their apps work with CarPlay. BP, Shell and Chevron Corp did not respond to requests for comment about whether they plan to make their iPhone apps work with CarPlay.
Apple's latest move is likely to increase tensions with automakers that have their own ambitions for commerce in the car.
For example, vehicle makers have tried - and failed - to popularize gasoline purchasing from the car before. General Motors Co rolled out a system for doing so in 2017, but shuttered it earlier this year "due to a supplier exiting the business," GM told Reuters in a statement.
Beyond apps for fuel and other purchases, Apple is also seeking to expand CarPlay further into the car's driving systems by accessing speed and fuel gauge data.
But automakers are not likely to hand over that data to Apple without making demands of their own in talks that analysts believe are likely already under way.
Speaking at the Reuters Automotive Europe conference in Munich on Wednesday, Mercedes Benz CEO Ola Kaellenius said the company's goal "is to have a complete, holistic, Mercedes experience."
Kallenius said Mercedes would not seek to reinvent every category of app, but that "when interacting with companies that are in this digital domain ... anything and everything that crosses into product liability relevance, we would be very cautious."
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Peter Henderson, Kenneth Li and Matthew Lewis)