Petrol prices: Diesel and unleaded rise 12p a litre in just five months

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Fuel prices accelerated in March for a fifth consecutive month, latest data shows. 

The average price of petrol rose 2.7p-a-litre last month, pushing unleaded to an average of 126.28p. 

Diesel prices have grown more steadily at 2.4p per litre in March, reaching 129.07p-a-litre on average.

Simon Williams, the RAC's spokesman on all things fuel related, said recent pump hikes 'seem unrelenting' and have frustratingly come at a time when drivers are 'now starting to use their vehicles more with the easing of the national lockdown'.

'Unrelenting' rise at the pumps: Fuel prices have increased for a fifth consecutive month, with petrol up by 2.7-a-litre in March to an average of 126.3p

The analysis comes as official figures show the huge dent the coronavirus pandemic on fuel demand, with petrol and diesel consumption falling by 8.7billion litres in 2020 - the equivalent of no vehicles visiting a filling station for almost 10 weeks. 

For motorists who have barely used their cars in 2021 due to the existing Covid lockdown, filling up for the first time in months will likely be far more expensive than they last remember. 

At the beginning of November, average petrol prices were around 114p-a-litre.

The recent surge has seen unleaded add around an additional 12.2p per litre in the subsequent five months.

A litre of diesel is around 11.4p more expensive today than it was on 1 November, the analysis also shows.

The RAC says the continued rise at the pumps has brought fuel prices back up to the same level they were in February 2020, before the pandemic struck the UK and ahead of the oil market crashing.

The combination of both factors in 2020 saw the first UK retailer selling petrol for less than £1-a-litre on 28 March - a Murco station in Birmingham - with supermarkets following suit within weeks. 

It was the first time unleaded was being sold for less than £1 per litre since early 2016. 

It was only a year ago that the fall in demand and an oil price crash saw petrol being sold for less than £1-a-litre

The March rise means it now costs £6.68 more to fill a 55-litre petrol car than it did in November (£69.45 in total), and £6.29 more to fill an equivalent-sized diesel car (£70.99). 

HOW MUCH DID PETROL INCREASE IN MARCH WHERE YOU LIVE? Unleaded 01/03/2021 30/03/2021 Change
UK average 123.58 126.26 2.68
East 124.03 126.86 2.83
East Midlands 123.43 125.78 2.35
London 124.81 127.87 3.06
North East 122.44 125.11 2.67
North West 123.37 125.89 2.52
Northern Ireland 118.45 122.18 3.73
Scotland 122.72 125.97 3.25
South East 124.59 127.36 2.77
South West 123.48 126.32 2.84
Wales 122.4 125.14 2.74
West Midlands 123.53 125.99 2.46
Yorkshire And The Humber 123.2 125.4 2.2
Source: RAC Fuel Watch 

While the oil price was $63.67 at the end of March - having recovered in recent months after hitting a historic low of just $13.21 last April - the ongoing impact of the pandemic on demand, particularly with global travel well down on normal, is helping to prevent it from going much higher for the time being.

The RAC says drivers looking for the best value at the pumps should continue to head to supermarkets, with a litre of unleaded currently costing 121.9p on average, with diesel at 124.86p. 

Asda leads the way with petrol at just 120.99p-a-litre, and diesel at 123.99p - around 6p cheaper than the national average. 

That said, the RAC points out that all the major retailers raised their prices in March in line with the rest of the industry, to the tune of an average of 2.61p for petrol and 2.59p for diesel.

With this in mind, the motoring organisation says drivers should be in line for a pump price cut in the coming weeks if retailers reflect wholesale prices on their forecourts.

However, there are concerns that after a year of reduced fuel demand, retailers will be looking to cash in as traffic volumes increase. 

The RAC said another month of fuel increases at the pumps is 'very frustrating' for drivers who are now returning to the road as lockdown measures are eased by ministers

Commenting on the March fuel price increase, Williams said: 'Pump price rises seem a little unrelenting at the moment with March being the fifth successive month where prices went up. 

DIESEL PUMP PRICE RISE IN MARCH Diesel 01/03/2021 30/03/2021 Change
UK average 126.68 129.03 2.35
East 127.61 129.96 2.35
East Midlands 126.65 128.85 2.2
London 127.54 130.21 2.67
North East 125.61 127.97 2.36
North West 126.23 128.63 2.4
Northern Ireland 121.76 124.4 2.64
Scotland 126.26 128.72 2.46
South East 127.95 130.33 2.38
South West 126.84 129.24 2.4
Wales 125.71 128.19 2.48
West Midlands 126.7 128.99 2.29
Yorkshire And The Humber 126.18 128.47 2.29
Source: RAC Fuel Watch 

'This is very frustrating for drivers who are now starting to use their vehicles more with the easing of the national lockdown. 

'They're unfortunately suffering the effects of the rise in wholesale fuel prices that took place in February which led retailers to increase their forecourt prices almost daily throughout last month.

'The situation isn't as grim as it could be though as the combination of a relatively strong pound and an oil price that is pegged back by lower global demand as a result of the pandemic mean wholesale prices are still lower than they otherwise would be.'

Having crunched the numbers, Williams says diesel is looking 'particularly overpriced at the moment', with the wholesale price of the fuel currently less than the petrol equivalent. 

Yet he warned that motorists shouldn't get too ahead of themselves thinking a price cut is looming, as this 'rarely translates into lower prices as retailers tend to use the saving to subsidise the price of petrol'.

He added: 'The coming weeks and months are critical when it comes to working out where prices might be heading during the rest of 2021. 

'For as long as global Covid travel restrictions remain, it's hard to see oil prices rocketing – and that should protect wholesale, and in turn, pump prices from rising too quickly. 

'However, what the major oil producing nations decide to do in terms of oil output is also important. Any further reductions in supply could start to push the barrel price up above the $70 mark again – spelling yet more pump price rises here in the UK.'

Fuel consumption fell 8.7BN LITRES during 2020 due to the pandemic and lockdowns 

The equivalent fall in demand for petrol and diesel last year as a result of the pandemic is around the same as no road vehicles filling up with fuel for almost 10 weeks, experts say

Coronavirus lockdowns and the restrictions on road travel during 2020 collapsed UK petrol and diesel sales by 8.7billion litres, HMRC's latest fuel duty update has revealed.

AA analysis shows that the crash in demand was equivalent to road vehicles not visiting fuel stations for nearly 10 weeks.

The Treasury's overall fuel duty receipts, including petrol, diesel and other fuels, fell from £27.796billion in 2019 to £22.621billion in 2020, it confirmed.

Last months, statistics released by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy showed that supermarkets came off worse from the fall in road fuel consumption. This is despite them being one of the few major retail groups allowed to trade throughout the pandemic.

'More than two months of road fuel consumption disappeared last year compared to 2019,' explains Luke Bosdet, the AA's fuel price spokesman.

'Petrol sales fell by 3.75billion litres and diesel's dropped by 4.96billion litres. 

'With weekly fuel consumption in 2019 averaging 324million litres for petrol and 577.6million litres for diesel, the impact last year was the same as losing 11.6 weeks of petrol consumption and 8.6 weeks of diesel demand.'

Overall, UK petrol and diesel demand crashed to 38.174 billion litres last year, down from 46.885billion the year previous. 

Car travel during the pandemic last year fell as low as 22 per cent of pre-Covid levels on 12 April.

'The only real surprise was supermarkets suffering more than the fuel trade in general,' Bosdet added. 

'While overall petrol sales fell by 20.9 per cent, the supermarkets' volumes fell by 22.3 per cent. Likewise, diesel sale were down 21.6 per cent compared to 15.9 per cent in general. 

'The boom in grocery deliveries leading to fewer store visits may have contributed to the bigger drop in fuel sales.'

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