The average car owner spends more than £1,200 per year on petrol and fuel economy has become the top priority for buyers of used cars — more important than make, model and even sale price — according to a recent poll.
In the past 12 months petrol prices have risen by 10%, more than four times the inflation rate, while Shell and BP have announced record profits.
Now the internet is coming to the aid of motorists with three new websites claiming to be able to cut fuel bills. One supplies information about prices, the other is a buyers’ group that is negotiating fuel discounts for its members and the third is aiming to distribute fuel at wholesale prices.
This site enables motorists to locate the cheapest fuel in their area. Forecourt prices change every day and vary by as much as 20p a litre from place to place and the website will tell you where to go to save money. It will even e-mail the information to your office, BlackBerry or PDA free of charge (it hopes to make money from advertising and promotions) so you can pick up the information en route.
Based in Aldershot, the site has signed up more than 300,000 registered users since its launch late last year. Users type a postcode or location into the website to find the cheapest fuel within a five, 10, 15 or 20-mile radius using data provided by Catalist, a fuel market analyst.
“We’re now looking into offering a service via mobile phone or as a tie-in with a sat nav provider so you could check for the cheapest fuel as you drive along,” says Brendan McLoughlin, 24, who set up the company with friend and business partner Paul Maunders.
This site (pipelinecard.org) is a buyers’ group that claims it will be able to offer members between 5p and 10p per litre off the forecourt price of fuel by securing a deal with a retailer to offer discounts in return for loyal customers. The company has already recruited 180,000 cardholders who have signed up via the website, and has negotiated a “deal in principle with a major retailer”.
The idea is based on a concept pioneered by UnitedConsumers in Holland, which launched in 2001 with just 20,000 members and offering discounts at five stations. It now has more than 200,000 members and offers discounts at 500 stations (out of about 3,000 manned stations in Holland). The company promises motorists 1-6 cents (about 0.7p-4p) per litre off the retail price of petrol. The discounted money is repaid by means of a rebate to an online account, which can then be transferred to the member ’s own bank.
The UK version, run by Ben Scammell, an IT consultant and fuel price campaigner, is due to launch this spring. “We aim to be something like a co-op for motorists,” said Nick Couchman of Pipeline.
This site (petrol4less.co.uk) says it has plans to become “the web’s favourite petrol station” but is tight-lipped about the exact details of the service it will offer, saying only that it will “guarantee its customers the opportunity to purchase petrol at less than forecourt prices”.
The company website claims the service will save UK motorists up to £90 per month per car. After much pressing a spokesman would say only that petrol and diesel would be distributed via “a specialist supply chain network of depots”. The service will be launched in April, registration is free and more details will be released in the spring.
ONE aspect that is clear is that it pays to shop around. Oil companies claim to make very little money on the retail side of their business, but they will drop prices to tempt motorists onto the forecourt and into station shops, where most of the money is increasingly made. The cheapest petrol on sale in the UK last week was 84.9p per litre at three petrol stations in Bolton, Lancashire. The most expensive was on the Shetland Islands at £1.09 per litre, compared with an average UK price of 90p. The average price per litre for diesel was 94.1p.
In a highly competitive area such as Birmingham, which according to PetrolPrices.com has 63 petrol stations, prices varied between 86.9p and 99.9p for a litre of unleaded. Even in a small town such as Royston in Hertfordshire, which has only four petrol stations, last week prices varied between 91.9p and 93.9p, according to PetrolPrices.com.
Those who travel around the country could make huge savings by stocking up on fuel in more competitive local markets where prices can sometimes change twice a day. Research undertaken on behalf of The Sunday Times shows even supermarkets, which now own 11% of forecourts but sell 30% of fuel, will push up prices when there is less competition, so that in some areas two Tesco stores within a few miles of each other will be selling fuel at significantly different prices. Only Asda has a national one-price-fits-all policy.
“Prices are changing all the time,” said Ruth Bridger, a fuel price analyst for the AA Motoring Trust. “The best protection motorists have is to compare notes, talk to friends and colleagues who use the same routes, and make sure they get the best deal in a constantly fluctuating market.”