Although there is a brief respite, duty rates for sulphur-free fuels will be increased in line with inflation from September 1, 2004, with the duty for ultra-low sulphur fuels set at 0.5 pence per litre above this level.
A fleet of 50 petrol cars (assuming 10,000 business miles a year and 35 mpg) will find its annual fuel bill rising by more than £1,200. With diesels the costs may rise by around £1,000.
Janet Eastwood, head of product management (fuel) at Arval PHH, operator of the AllStar fuel card, said: 'The increases are another strike against British competitiveness. Although deferred until September, the rise of 1.92 pence per litre on low-sulphur fuels will hit fleets hard.'
According to Bank of Scotland Vehicle Management, the increase for larger fleets could be more than £10,000.
Mike Waters, head of market analysis at fleet leasing company Arval PHH said: 'The good point is the reduced increase on sulphur-free fuels. Increased take-up of these will encourage the development of cleaner vehicles.'