Cash-strapped drivers buy ½bn fewer litres of petrol
PETROL sales have plummeted at their fastest rate since before the recession four years ago, Britain’s biggest motoring group highlights today.
High fuel prices and continuing economic uncertainty are blamed for sales diving by nearly 500 million litres in April-June compared with a year ago.
The Automobile Association said the fall confirmed a long-term reduction in consumption was continuing, after it increased briefly because of panic-buying during the tanker drivers’ dispute in March.
The UK government figures come as average fuel prices edge towards new highs, with petrol and diesel only about 3p below record levels.
The AA said the 496.8 million litre fall was the first time since 2008 that less fuel had been sold in the spring quarter than the previous three months.
Diesel sales also fell in April-June, reversing a three-year growth trend.
Overall, two billion fewer litres of petrol and diesel were sold on forecourts in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2008.
Between January and June 2008, forecourt sales of petrol and diesel reached 18.97 billion litres. In the first half of this year, it had slumped to 16.7 billion litres.
AA president Edmund King said: “A 10.6 per cent fall in petrol sales this past quarter is a huge drop. Whilst we welcome the fact new cars have become more fuel-efficient, this goes nowhere near to accounting for the crash in demand over the past three months and the past five years.
“Ever-increasing prices in recent years have sent petrol sales into steady decline, and the panic-buying at the end of March may have brought forward sales in early April.
“A fall of 2.27 billion litres in UK fuel sales over the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2008 has got to bring some sense of reality to the fuel market and government.”
He accused the fuel industry of trying to squeeze more money out of shrinking customer demand.
He added: “Price transparency is the way forward – to ensure and show drivers they are getting a fair deal at the pump.”
The AA’s latest monthly fuel price report, two weeks ago, showed average UK petrol prices had increased by nearly 5p a litre since August to 140.21p, and 140.3p in Scotland. Diesel increased by more than 4p a litre to average 144.6p, and 145.2p in Scotland. The figures compare with the latest records, set in April, of 142.48p for petrol and 147.93p for diesel.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists said the outlook was grim for drivers.
Neil Greig, its Scotland-based policy and research director, said: “This shows the ongoing double-whammy effects of the recession and the high cost of fuel.
“Drivers cutting back may be good news for the environment, but not for the economy.
“Fewer trips means less spending on leisure journeys. It also means less tax for the [UK] government, but few will shed a tear about that.”
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent forecourts that account for 60 per cent of the total, said the April-June fall was a reaction to panic-buying in March.
Chairman Brian Madderson said: “The worsening economic climate continues to play a role in falling petrol sales, as consumers cut back on discretionary spending.
“The PRA continues to call on government to lower the fuel duty on petrol showing just how little the petrol retailers make (£1 from every £30 spent), which has to cover operating costs.”
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