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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

In The Dragons' Den

Jack ascended the iron spiral staircase and entered the warehouse space. The five Dragons looked at him without expression, awaiting his pitch.

‘I want to present a concept to you that will revolutionise motor transport,’ he began. ‘And I’d like to ask for two hundred thousand pounds for a ten percent share of the business.’

The Dragons continued to eye him in silence.

‘Each year,’ Jack continued, ‘huge amounts of time are wasted by the need for motorists to refuel at service stations. My business would make this inefficiency a thing of the past. In a nutshell, a text to my company would result in a refuelling vehicle, or RV, being despatched to rendezvous, on the move, with a customer’s vehicle. It would then draw alongside, and refuelling would take place without the need to stop, or even slow down.’

Duncan Bannatyne looked thoughtful. ‘Wouldn’t that require all vehicles to be specially adapted, in the way that some military aircraft are?’

‘Not at all,’ Jack responded. ‘An attendant would be tied to the outside of the RV. He or she would open the filler cap of the customer’s vehicle, insert a funnel and top up the tank from a jerrycan. The RV would then be driven slightly forward in relation to the customer’s vehicle such that the attendant reached the recipient driver’s window - thus payment could be taken.’

‘You’d need a nationwide fleet of RVs to provide an effective service,’ noted Deborah Meaden, insightfully.

‘It would be a franchise,’ Jack explained. ‘Any two people with access to a vehicle could form a mobile refuelling team, comprising a driver and an attendant. Their RV would simply need to be big enough to transport three or four large jerrycans containing different fuels, together with a funnel. Even a small car would be adequate. Any rope, or even a spare clothes line, could be used to lash the attendant to the RV.’

‘I may be interested,’ announced Theo Paphitis. ‘Has there been any testing of the system?’

‘It worked well in initial tests on a disused airfield,’ Jack confirmed. ‘We had some teething problems with the road tests.’

‘Teething problems,’ said Theo, in a tone of enquiry.

‘The tests showed that the system was not suited to narrow, two way roads,’ admitted Jack. ‘The time taken to complete the fuelling and payment process was often greater than the frequency of oncoming vehicles. As the RV was alongside the recipient vehicle in the lane used by oncoming traffic, we had some kinetic energy transfer conflicts.’

‘You mean there were head-on collisions,’ Theo paraphrased.

‘We prefer to call them unscheduled refuelling terminations,’ Jack emphasised. ‘We found this to be a particular problem at night and on badly lit roads. However,’ he continued in a more upbeat tone, ‘the system works very well on duel carriageways and motorways where there’s a vacant, adjacent lane for traffic travelling in the same direction.’

‘Have you identified any other Health and Safety issues?’ enquired Peter Jones.

‘We advise that the attendant wear a crash helmet to reduce the risk of injury if the RV and recipient vehicle collide,’ Jack replied, ‘and it’s recommended that he or she doesn’t smoke, if at all possible. We also provide flashing signs for the front of RVs recommending that nearby pedestrians extinguish cigarettes and naked flames.’

‘Why’s that?’ asked Peter.

‘It can be a challenge for the attendant to pour fuel from a heavy jerrycan into a funnel while tied to the outside of a speeding vehicle,’ Jack clarified. ‘Pedestrians are sometimes soaked by spilt fuel that splashes onto the road and pavement. It evaporates very quickly, however,’ he continued reassuringly, ‘so they soon dry out. The driver of the recipient vehicle must also take care when paying the attendant,’ Jack added, ‘as he or she must simultaneously continue to drive safely – often at high speed.’

‘It’s a brilliant concept that you’ve obviously thought through in every detail,’ enthused Hilary Devey. ‘It’s hard to find any drawbacks at all. It makes you wonder why nobody’s thought of it before. I assume most of the refuellings are successful,’ she queried, as an afterthought.

‘Over seventy percent of refuellings take place without serious incident or loss of life,’ Jack proudly confirmed. ‘Conflagrations involving both vehicles occur in less than five percent of cases.’

Jack surveyed the Dragons. It was clear that five offers of a business partnership would be shortly forthcoming. The pitch had gone well. The negotiation phase had begun.