Oil companies may not be getting as much mileage from petroleum cobranded cards as they had hoped, according to an Atlanta-based research firm.

An eighth of the gas card customers it surveyed said they buy less from the oil company on the card than before they got it.

Karen Wimmer, who ran the study at Brittain Associates, said it showed the cards do not inspire much brand loyalty.

Unlike gasoline cards issued by a petroleum company, "people can use their MasterCard and Visa at other gasoline stations," she noted.

An analyst at another firm said the rebates and other perks associated with cobranded gas cards might not have enough octane.

"I'm not surprised" that gas card holders are fickle, said Donald M. Berman, president of CMS LP, a credit card consulting firm in Plainview, N.Y.

"It's pretty hard to create brand loyalty in the petroleum industry just with a 1% card" - one whose cardholders get just a 1% rebate on gas purchases.

Mr. Berman said cobranded petroleum cards provide limited value to consumers.

Brittain Associates, which surveyed 6,000 people, estimated that 10 million petroleum cobranded cards had been issued.

The Brittain survey had other mixed news for cobranded gas card issuers: Less than a third of cardholders carry a monthly balance, and the average for those who do is $950, about 50% below the industry average of $1,470.

Given that the first were issued only four years ago, Brittain Associates concluded that the category has been "one of the fastest-growing since the AT&T Universal and GM MasterCard introductions."

Though some people may reduce their reliance on a given petroleum brand after acquiring its card, others behave differently. About one in five consumers in the Brittain poll said they bought more gas from the company after signing up for its card. Seventy percent said they bought the same amount.

Oil companies are relative newcomers to cobranding, the practice of issuing a MasterCard or Visa card in conjunction with a bank. Getty Petroleum Corp., Shell Oil Co., and Unocal Corp. were among the first, teaming up with bank issuers in 1993.

Other oil companies followed in hopes of increasing brand loyalty.Consumers typically earn gasoline rebates when they make any purchase with the card, and bonus rebates when they buy the sponsor's gas.

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