FairFuelUK, the Nationally Recognised Award Winning Campaign fighting for lower petrol & diesel prices, is widely accredited with stopping £30 billion of road user taxes being levied on businesses & public in this Parliament
Quentin WillsonQuentin Willson is one of Britain’s best-known motoring authorities and is lead campaigner for FairFuelUK. He spent over a decade presenting BBC's Top Gear and was largely responsible for bringing the once scandalously high prices of new cars in the UK down to the same level as the rest of Europe.
See his new and very popular Classic Car Show
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Freight Transport AssociationThe Road Haulage Association    The Association of Pallet NetworksMicrolise help our customers to reduce the cost and environmental impact of their fleet operations.The RAC
Tuesday, September 29, 2015

That whiff in the air isn’t just from diesel particulates it’s the smell of hypocrisy


As European governments and politicians howl with righteous indignation evidence is unraveling daily that far too many people knew about the Emission Impossible affair for far too long. And they weren’t just inside the car industry but government departments, regulators and the European Commission itself. Obsessed with the guilt of CO2 and the apocalyptic threat of global warming they covered the ears with their hands and allowed (and incentivised) diesel to such a degree that its become Europe’s dominant passenger car fuel which now outsells petrol by up to 40%. But collectively they didn’t just fail us by ignoring the many concerned warnings over the years about the toxicity of diesel emission or allowing such an inaccurate and faulted testing regime to exist in the first place, they also made policy decisions that drove us to the insane and unbelievable situation we face today.

Oil speculators, banks, and commodity traders were allowed to hike up the cost of crude to unaffordable levels. Remember how in 2008 the price of a barrel of oil touched $145 and the global economy collapsed? Brent crude is now hovering around $48 and that poses the Terrifying Question. Was nearly $100 of that epic barrel price just middlemen speculation and price manipulation? Was that huge and globally debilitating oil price the result of just more systemic corporate immorality? By allowing such massive invigoration of prices through unregulated market activity consumers across Europe were forced to choose cars that wrung every last mile from their tanks – hence the widespread adoption of high MPG diesel. We can’t blame drivers for going for the cheapest running costs. Government policy forced us to buy diesel cars.

Only 2% of car buyers are actually interested in emissions, the other 98% care about the thing that touches them most – miles to the gallon. But to make things worse the UK was burdened with one of the highest fuel duty regimes in Europe putting yet more pressure on cash-strapped drivers to reduce their fuel bills. If this government had sat down and designed an official policy to ensure that half the drivers in the UK drove a diesel car they couldn’t have done a better job than we see today. They accidentally steered consumers towards polluting but high MPG cars by allowing the price of oil and fuel to soar to impossibly expensive levels. And they did it to appease the green lobby, to prove their shiny environmental credentials. They sacrificed air quality on the golden alter of climate change. They thought that if fuel became too expensive we’d all drive less. The car industry may have fiddled their figures but governments tacitly allowed the oil industry to massage theirs too. And the result is a set of unintended consequences that will cost Europe more than just money.


FairFuelUK asked for a government enquiry into oil pricing. We asked for an OFT investigation into road fuel pricing and campaigned for lower fuel duty and a halt to future fuel tax rises. And we did it because we knew ill-informed government policy was forcing drivers to make the wrong decisions because fuel prices were far too high. We warned that the road fuel market was dysfunctional and that things needed to change but all our demands for investigations were ignored. We now know this unthinking obsession to reduce CO2 and selective blindness to an official emissions testing regime that clearly wasn’t working pushed consumers into making car buying decisions that made our air and atmosphere worse, not better. So while politicians lecture Europe from their moral high ground let’s not forget it was their policies and their environmental point-scoring that created the demand for diesel-engined cars that could never meet the emission targets they themselves had set. Didn’t they see the tailpipe soot on the street? Weren’t they told that diesel particulate filters on cars weren’t working? Didn’t they realise NOx levels in our cities were rising not falling? Couldn’t they see the yellow haze of PM10 pollution hanging in the air?


And now politicians and regulators are in crisis mode they’re trying to bolt the stable door after the horse has run a hundred furlongs by saying they’ll re-test every single car on sale to see if it meets real driving emission standards. Well, they’re in for another seismic shock because very few cars on sale will meet those EU targets and many will show alarmingly high levels of NOx and particulates.


And that’s simply because the system our politicians created and were supposed to monitor has never worked.


All those much-vaunted targets will have to change along with VED duties, Benefit in Kind calculations and Certificates of Conformity. The cost to consumers and taxpayers will be huge, the European motor industry will buckle, jobs will be lost, GDP will fall and interest rates and inflation will rise. More importantly it will take years to clear our air and cities of a pall of soot and particulates. They might as well ban the car altogether. This is an epic fiasco that happened on the European Commission’s watch. There’s accountability here.

And in another stunning display of naivety governments across Europe are going to also test cars to see if they reach their official MPG figures. Even my five-year-old will tell you that nobody achieves those figures in real world driving. How could they? Cars tested in labs can’t possibly reflect the variables of climate, road conditions and differing driver abilities. The vast majority of motorists know that there’s at least a 20% difference between actual MPG and official fuel consumption figures. Motoring journalists like me have been highlighting this disparity for years and it’s become one of those urban myths we’ve all come to grudgingly accept. So why don’t legislators and regulators know this too? If they genuinely aren’t aware of this difference it shows a deeply serious lack of knowledge that’s simply unforgivable. But I guess that’s the essential truth in all this: governments don’t know enough about cars, vans, trucks, roads and fuel. We’ve seen this repeatedly at FairFuelUK when we’ve tried to engage with politicians and seen alarming chasms in their knowledge, awareness and experience. And that lack of expertise is due to one thing – Europe’s political class isn’t interested in their respective road economies. They couldn’t care less. Cars, trucks and roads don’t interest them at all. That’s all got to change.

The Volkswagen Group were totally duplicitous but poor regulation and governance allowed that duplicity to go unchecked in Europe and in a bizarre act of corporate insanity they thought they’d get away with the same trick in the U.S where regulatory systems and processes are much more searching. The unfolding emissions debacle is to Europe’s eternal shame and proof positive that politicians need to take much more interest and be much better informed on the subject of road transport and fuel pricing. Blame for all this definitely needs to be parked and while there’s a large space outside the VW factory in Wolfsburg there’s also another huge one bang in front of the European Commission in Brussels. We must never allow such shoddy regulation to ever happen again.

Quentin Willson


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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Before Volkswagen is reduced to a smoking ruin buy a tsunami of media outragewe need to understand one seminal point: in the UK government, legislators, engineers and consumers have know that the current tailpipe emission and fuel efficiency testing regimes established by the EU have always been nonsense. We’ve all known they’ve been woefully inaccurate for years. Most ordinary motorists take official fuel economy figures with a huge pinch of salt and for years the media has been full of stories about real world fuel consumption being totally different from official figures. We know this is a fact of driving life. The righteous indignation we’re hearing in the UK now has a hollow ring. If we didn’t get the fuel economy those official figures promised, how on earth could the emission figures be accurate as well?


VW were totally wrong to knowingly develop software that deliberately cheats emission testing but we mustn’t ignore the fact that everybody in the automotive and testing industry plus the governments who oversee the testing process knew that figures were being routinely fudged. There are allegations that the German government we well aware of this as well. The wholetesting process is faulted, allowing test cars to run in labs on special low resistance tyres with low friction oils andhave the door apertures taped over to improve wind resistance and fuel efficiency. Everybody, including governments and legislators, allowed this to happen to meet often unrealistic and impossible emission and economy figures to appease the green lobby. This massive deception was caused by our collective paranoia about the effects of CO2 and global warming in the early 2000s. Governments sought political capital from a knee-jerk reaction to the threat of climate change and didn’t properly consider facts and evidence. FairFuelUK has said before that Gordon Brown’s decision to cut the duty on low sulphur diesel in 2001 was a major factor in making UK motorists switch from petrol to diesel. We were told that diesel was better for the environment than petrol, which is why 50% of UK motorists switched over to diesel cars. We were told it was the right thing to do.  We were misled.


At one stage the official Highway Code booklet even advised new drivers to buy a diesel cars instead of petrol because it was ‘greener’. Nobody looked at the particulates and soot emissions from diesel closely enough and we were told that petrol and CO2 were the worst polluters and the biggest threat to global climate change. Now, when it’s far too late, we know that diesel pollutes in a completely different way. Anybody who drives on our roads has seen the black clouds of soot from diesel exhausts during acceleration and not just from cars but buses, vans and HGVs too. And these particulates represent a serious health risk that needs much more research and understanding. The VW emissions scandal will mean that the supremacy of the diesel engine may be threatened and that the current emissions testing regime in Europe needs a massive and complete overhaul.


What’s really ironic though is that consumers generally don’t buy cars on their low emissions. Most of us buy on fuel economy and most of us knew those much-vaunted official MPG figures were never accurate. So the charge that this sandal has somehow disadvantaged car buyers seems very far-fetched indeed. VW definitely shouldn’t have engineered such duplicity into their engine software but also governments in the US and Europe shouldn’t have allowed their official testing procedures to be so imperfect and inaccurate.  And don’t blame the entire car industry for all this. Their collective efforts over decades to improve economy, efficiency and emissions have been significant and to ignore such enormous technological advance would be grossly unfair. We never hear environmentalists railing about power stations, trains buses or shipping pollution – its always cars. I can’t help thinking that some of this tirade of media indignation we’ve been hearing over the last couple of days is the old battle of left versus right with the car as the central metaphor.  Let’s not get distracted by the two-wheels-good-four-wheels-bad debate and concentrate instead on the two things that really matter most in all this. We need a new robust Europe-wide fuel economy and emissions testing system that’s accurate using real world driving and we need much, much more research on the health dangers of diesel.   


Quentin Willson  


Please add your name to help to support a fairer deal for 37m UK drivers, that already contribute £45bn in tax to the Treasury with only 18% of this amount going back into our roads

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Monday, September 14, 2015

2015 hasn’t been brilliant. Behind all those cheery government surveys of how well the economy is doing is an underlying feeling that we’re all just treading water. Manufacturing is down along with reduced private sector investment; take over activity and business optimism. We’re still waiting for that much vaunted post-election bounce but it hasn’t bounced, yet. Thank heavens for the low oil price that’s helped keep business sales costs down and consumer activity up. The oil industry may be moaning about job losses but the benefits of cheaper fuel across the economy far outweigh those employment losses. And consumer activity, as FairFuelUK constantly reminds the Treasury, accounts for 60% of GDP. Consumer spending is the engine of growth.


Any plans that the Treasury and the Chancellor may have about raising fuel duty can now be robustly discredited given the constant flow of evidence-based data that we’ve provided over the last four years. Keeping a lid on fuel duty rises has been one of the most important factors in our recent economic stability and has helped keep inflation and interest rates low. Every credible economic expert agrees that keeping consumers driving and making sure the haulage industry has affordable fuel have both been critical factors in our fiscal recovery. And in this graphic published by the Treasury itself, it clearly shows why cutting duty is beneficial to the economy. That politicians and ministers didn’t know this immutable economic truth already is surprising, but that’s another thing we’ve discovered on our many engagements with Westminster over the years: a real understanding of how the UK road economy functions is sorely lacking. Howard Cox and I can count the number of politicians and Treasury mandarins who really understand how dependent we are on roads and transport on the fingers of two hands, literally.


And we’re seeing this lack of understanding in many other road-related areas. Fuel duty may be static (its still the highest in Europe) but there are hundreds of other constraints to consumer activity. Parking costs, road maintenance, speed cameras, pot holes, uninsured drivers, local council revenue raising, expensive public transport and many other factors all conspire to make the freedom of consumer movement increasingly challenging and expensive. I remember the Prime Minister saying that the war on motorists was over. Well, from my driving seat things seem to be even worse. The essential process of getting from A to B in order to put cash into the economy and drive growth is becoming more and more difficult. Money spent on fines in box junctions and bus lanes won’t be spent in the shops. Public sector motoring enforcement is piecemeal, unfair, often unjustified and always very costly. Money is being taken from the general economy, consumers are being disadvantaged and personal movement is becoming unnecessarily restricted.


We think that the public sector motoring enforcement is sucking billions out of the UK economy and reducing consumer and business activity. We also believe things are at crisis point. When you don’t have enough time to pay cash into your bank or spend time and money in shops and cafes because a parking warden is constantly hovering, something is deeply wrong. And when you’re driving to your high street and have to pay £60 because you’ve slightly strayed into a bus lane you’re going to shop somewhere else in the future. And as a result income into those high street shops declines significantly. This is a constant circle of transport expense that will drive consumers to online shopping and away from local commerce. Society loses jobs, communities lose shops and the government loses tax revenue to foreign companies based in low tax locations. That’s the chilling effect of draconian public sector motoring enforcement. And the irony is that the victims of these fines, parking tickets and general harassment aren’t the small minority of dangerous drivers we all see so regularly but decent law-abiding hard-working drivers who just want to get on with life and work. The growing culture of generating public sector income from motoring fine revenue carries a heavy social and economic cost. We can’t let this continue unchecked.


Quentin Willson

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

At the meeting with Howard Cox on 18th August, PRA was represented by their Chairman and a retailer from Hampshire who owns and operates 4 local filling stations. The retailer emphasised that the pricing agreement with their supplier was "Weekly Lagged” and then explained how it works – this week’s prices (which take effect on Tuesday) are based on the average of the previous week’s prices. Then a price is calculated based on the average of their agreed marker sites. This produces a "Supported Price” and the margin that results is shared with the supplier on the basis of a matrix which forms part of the supply contract. However, the retailer often has to sell below the agreed price to remain competitive in the local area and, as a result, takes the full hit on margin. A 1ppl cut in pole sign price costs 0.83ppl - often a very substantial part of the margin.

It is disappointing that Howard insists on referring to crude oil prices despite telling him repeatedly that retailers only buy refined product which is separately quoted by Platts ( a division of McGraw-Hill). Recently there have been considerable differences in the grade prices.

Howard also conveniently ignores the fact that the retailer has stock in their tanks, sometimes considerable volume which has to be sold before dropping the price. More likely, the retailer drops the price immediately taking the hit on margin

This is illustrated in the table below.


Oil company fuel cards were mentioned due to the very low card commissions at around 1.40ppl and just 0.77ppl for Bunker diesel. This clearly reduces the overall margin achieved as the independent segment has 70% of the specialist hi-speed refuelling facilities for HGV’s so supply a large part of the on-road fuel to this sector. Without this network the fuel costs of many haulage companies would increase as they would have to divert off route increasing delivery/product prices for everyone.

The retailer advised that an average annual gross margin of 5ppl is needed just to sustain the business but that isn’t a maximum it is just a target that the retailer has yet to achieve over a financial year. This market cannot be judged in a single day, or even a week – it really should be considered over a much longer period, a year minimum.


Brian Madderson
Chairman Petrol Retailers Association


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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quentin Willson with Jason McCartney MP a great supporter of lower fuel dutyFirst the good news. There’s so much oil sloshing around in the world that nobody quite knows what to do with it all. Storage tanks are brimming over, tankers holding 50 million barrels idly float on oceans and America and Saudi Arabia are pumping out so much crude they’ve added an extra two million barrels a day to global supplies. If Iranian sanctions are lifted another 500,000 barrels could add to this massive spike in oversupply. Experts are now revising their predictions and saying that prices could fall to the mid $30 range (that’s pre 2008 levels) later this year. Venezuela and Nigeria are close to bankruptcy, Russia’s inflation is running at 16%, oil workers are threatening to go on strike, big commodity houses are shedding hundreds of millions in value and all because the black gold is at its lowest point for six years. This rapid fall is unprecedented and shows no sign of stopping. For the oil industry, the good times definitely aren’t rolling.

But for you and me this means as much as a year of cheaper petrol and diesel. Or at least it should do – and here’s the bad news. If the falls in the wholesale price on a barrel of crude (and the wholesale price a litre of fuel) were reflected at the pumps we’d be looking at prices under £1.00 a litre very soon indeed. But that might take longer than everybody hopes because - as the Petrol Retailers Association told Howard Cox this week - those savings aren’t passed on to consumers anything like as quickly as they should be. We now have official confirmation of what everybody’s suspected for years - fuel that retailers hold on to that extra margin of profit for as long as they can. We’ve called this the ‘Rocket and Feather Effect’ – fuel goes up like a rocket and down like a feather - and FairFuelUK has been complaining bitterly about the injustice of Rocket and Feather for years. The PRA claim that these extra slugs of profit gained when oil goes down help insulate independent petrol retailers from periods when their margins are much lower – typically only 3p a litre. And we understand that smaller, independent filling stations have a tough time with so much competition from the supermarkets. But over the last few months some filling outlets have been enjoying over three times their usual profit per litre. Is that fair? Well you tell me?

But now we know the truth there’s a bigger question here: the supermarkets and oil majors buy their wholesale fuels in billions of litres so they get a much greater discount and therefore a much bigger margin when oil prices change. The financial benefits they enjoy from oil price fluctuations could be much greater and the degree to which consumers are being disadvantaged much worse. We have to ask ourselves if there’s another commodity that we’re forced to buy so regularly that has such elastic profit margins – and the answer is no. So why have we had to tolerate this pricing opportunism for so long? Given what we know now it’s entirely possible that some of the big fuel retailers have been taking as much as 15p profit per litre, which on a family car fill up is an extra £7.50p. Across the year that’s nearly £400 - a fortune to most struggling families and for a business an unnecessary extra cost to sales and profitability. We just don’t think that’s fair.


And now the metaphorical cat is out of the proverbial bag and we know that our suspicions about Rocket and Feather are indeed true, we’re calling for an inquiry into fuel pricing, the tax taken by the government to be clearly stated on fuel receipts and for the difference between the wholesale and retail prices of petrol and diesel to be freely and openly published for all to see. This government has made much store of pricing and tax transparency and making sure consumers always get the best deal. They’ve done it with the banks and utility companies so why not the road fuel industry? Armed with this new information about the realities of Rocket and Feather this government now has a moral obligation to do the right the thing. FairFuelUK is here to make sure that it does.


Quentin Willson

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FairFuelUK is managed by Howard Cox and Quentin Willson (TV Broadcaster and Motoring Journalist).
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