So what has caused this decline in petrol sales? Are there multiple factors at work here? Have a look at the articles and consider the explanations.
Whilst perhaps not an essential in the sense of needing it to live, petrol is about as close as you can get to a ‘non-essential necessity’ these days. Most families have a car (many have more than one) and despite the hikes in petrol prices we’ve seen across the UK, demand for petrol has remained high: it is a prime example of a good with a highly inelastic demand.
Over the past few years many families have chosen to forego their holidays abroad and instead have taken to summer vacations across the UK in a bid to save money. However, with the summer season approaching and families beginning to think about where to go or plan their trips, one thing that should be considered is the cost of travel. Petrol prices across Europe have risen faster than those in the UK over the past year and this may pose a significant cost and possibly deterrent to European travel. As Sarah Munro of the Post Office said:
‘The high fuel price increases in Europe mean that UK holidaymakers should plan their routes carefully in advance to cut costs’.
Petrol prices were found to be the lowest in Luxembourg at 128p per litre and the highest in Norway at 182p – a definite deterrent to filling up your tank in Scandinavia. Despite motorists’ constant exclamations of the price of petrol in the UK, of the 14 countries surveyed the UK came in as the 4th cheapest at 136p. It also had the smallest increase since 2010 of 14p, compared to the average of the countries surveyed of 27.8p.
Although the higher fuel prices have been fuelled (no pun intended) by rising wholesale oil prices, when crude prices started to fall, petrol prices didn’t decline to match. This has sparked an inquiry into petrol prices, with demands for more transparency into the price setting behaviour of firms. The British Petrol Retailers’ Association is planning on referring its concerns to the Office of Fair Trading. So the moral of the story: petrol prices are high in the UK, but if you’re going on holiday this summer, you’ll probably find that many other countries across Europe have even higher prices, so planning is essential.
Holiday hike: European petrol prices soar by up to 35 per cent Daily Mail Online, Sarah Gordon (10/6/11)
UK holidaymakers ‘face high petrol prices’ BBC News (10/6/11)
Petrol prices are 35% higher in Europe than last summer Mirror, Ruki Sayid (10/6/11)
Motoring coalition calls on EU to investigate soaring price of petrol Telegraph, Rowena Mason (10/6/11)
Motoring groups demand petrol price investigation BBC News (30/5/11)
- How are European petrol prices set?
- Why does the exchange rate against the dollar have a big impact on oil prices?
- Why have petrol prices in the UK not increased by as much as other European countries over the past year?
- Why is there likely to be an investigation into how prices are set? Which factors do you think will be considered?
- The Telegraph article talks about the sport market. What is this and how does it affect how petrol prices are set?
- Why does petrol have such inelastic demand?
- If a higher tax is imposed on petrol, why is it that much of the cost will be passed on to consumers in the form of a higher price? Illustrate this on a diagram.
For most people, buying a new car is a luxury and in times of hardship it is a luxury that many cannot afford. Sales of new cars did grow during 2010 by 1.8% compared to the previous year, although the end of the car scrappage scheme in March 2010 did see a fall in sales. Sales went from being 19.9 per cent up on 2009 in the first half of the year, to being 13.8 per cent down for the remainder of 2010. On top of this, they are predicted to fall by some 5% over the coming 12 months.
Part of the explanation of this trend is the VAT rise. While an extra 2.5% is hardly noticeable on many every day items (as we saw when VAT was reduced to 15%), it will have a much larger effect on more expensive items, such as cars.
It was expected that people thinking of buying a new car would try to beat the VAT rise and so car firms hoped for a surge in sales during December. However, this did not occur and with VAT at 20% during 2011, car prices will rise: a £15,000 car will cost an extra £320. Another contributing factor to the lower than expected sales in December was the snow. Retail sales in December collapsed by 37.5%, where as fleet sales, which are less likely to be affected by the adverse weather rose by 5.1%. Similar patterns were seen in Spain, Italy and France, but in Germany sales were up by 7% on the year from December 2009.
The good news for the UK car industry is that the second half of 2011 is expected to see growth, so there may be some recovery. Furthermore, UK-built cars have seen a rise in sales – up by 17%. Finally, as petrol prices continue to rise, it is hoped that this might encourage people to trade in their less efficient old cars for more fuel-efficient new cars. This will certainly be an industry to watch over the next few months.
Snow hits new car sales Telegraph, Graham Ruddick (8/1/11)
UK new car sales to fall in 2011, says industry BBC News (7/1/11)
Mixed end to the year for European car sales Independent (7/1/11)
Car sales set to stall? Daily Mirror, Clinton Manning (8/1/11)
UK new car sales rose 1.8pc in 2010 despite end of scrappage scheme Telegraph, Amy Wilson (7/1/11)
New car sales increased in 2010 Telegraph, Chris Knapman (7/1/11)
Car registrations fall 18% from year ago Financial Times, Norma Cohen (7/1/11)
- What type of tax is VAT? Illustrate the effect of such a tax on a diagram and explain why the higher the price of the good, the bigger the impact of the VAT rise. How might this impact inflation?
- Why are car sales expected to fall in the UK over the coming year? Given this expected trend, what might we expect to see in terms of car prices?
- What impact might rising petrol prices have on new car purchases? What figure would you expect to see for cross elasticity of demand?
- How might the expected decline in car sales affect the UK economy over the next 12 months?
- What type of market structure is the car industry? (Think about the characteristics of monopolistic competition and oligopoly.)
- How did the car scrappage scheme help car sales?
- What might explain the different trend seen in the German car industry?