The Extra Mile

The Extra Mile

If we’re reasonably conscious of our car’s fuel consumption, then we should be similarly conscious of the price we pay for our fuel. Since the crude oil price hit a low in early 2016, the average UK pump price for standard diesel has risen steadily from just over £1.00 a litre to around £1.25, pushing up fuel costs by 25 per cent. That’s equivalent to our average fuel consumption dropping from 50 to 40mpg! One can only imagine how this must hit road haulage operators, where today’s prices mean fuel costs of around £1 a mile, or £500 a day for a big HGV covering 500 miles. Putting the potential savings into perspective, one HGV fleet which had its tractor unit speed governors restricted to 52mph, rather than the legally required 56mph, resulting in overall fleet fuel economy average of 6.2mpg, saving them £2.5 million a year in fuel costs! That sort of thing really brings home the fact that speed uses fuel and, for HGVs where generally aerodynamic resistance largely determines open road fuel consumption, a 4mph top speed sacrifice brought savings of between ten and fifteen per cent in fuel costs, which is astonishing. Interestingly, the same source revealed that their most economical truck drivers used around 30 per cent less fuel than the most heavy-footed ones.

But back to our own fuel costs. The crude oil price was driven downwards through 2014 and 2015 by the collective action of the established OPEC oil exporting nations, in response to the threat of fracking for the extraction of oil (and hydrocarbon gas) from oil shale deposits. This had given many countries like the USA and Canada a fresh source of their own depleted conventionally extracted fossil fuels, and the opportunity to significantly reduce, or eliminate, their dependence on OPEC oil imports. But the break-even cost for extraction from oil shale is much higher than that for conventional oil wells and, at the early 2016 crude oil price, many oil shale projects were rendered economically non-viable. The OPEC oil producers were by then hurting for income though, after driving down crude oil prices to try to put the US and Canadian oil shale producers out of business, and they collectively have now driven the crude oil price up again, whilst world oil demand is still steadily rising. So, the UK is probably not going to see any deviation outside the £1.00 to £1.25 per litre price range, unless a future UK chancellor decides to disturb the present situation, where well over half of the pump price is excise duty and VAT. As a result, there’s something of a delicate global balance, with prices that might only be driven down by a severe global recession, and we’re unlikely to see any great diesel price changes in the immediate future without such an event. 

Domestically though, there’s something of a conflict between the rising popularity of diesel SUV type vehicles and the cost of running them, particularly with the present pressure on diesel power thatís driving people towards petrol and hybrid alternatives. But you have only to look at comparisons for large petrol and diesel SUVs where, for example, the EC Combined mpg for the Volvo XC90 R-Design are (petrol) 34.9mpg and (diesel) 45.6mpg (and ignoring the unreality of the alternative XC90 T8 hybrid’s 134.5mpg in relation to most real-life motoring) to see that, one way or another, SUV owners and drivers are likely to encounter significantly higher running costs, in fuel, emissions charging, and higher vehicle excise duties. As a result, and with road fuel prices rising, if you’ve switched to a trendy diesel SUV from a hatchback in the last two years, you may have seen your fuel bills rise by as much as 40 per cent. With this continuing trend to heavier SUVs and away from lighter, less thirsty, hatchbacks, what better time than now to apply the base principles of economy driving, and perhaps make a small contribution to the arrest of global warming? We’ll be giving you a kick start next month with a new three-part series on the basics of economy driving that will help you put a few pounds back in your pocket every month.

Victor Harman 


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