Rising prices and threats of protest caused hysterical panic buying and left many petrol stations dry in the space of a few hours.
Fleet industry figures say the week’s events and the continuing volatility of the market mean it is more important than ever for fleets to look very carefully at their fuel management strategies.
Many say now is the time to restrict the locations at which drivers can fill up in the battle to find the cheapest fuel.
But this is easier said than done, as the cheapest site today might be the most expensive tomorrow, thanks to the daily change in prices, most recently with a four pence per litre cut by some outlets.
Mike Waters, head of market analysis at Arval, welcomed the decision by several supermarkets to cut fuel by 4p per litre.
He said: ‘Clearly, these supermarket chains are eating into their own margins and using this as a tactic to generate ancillary expenditure.
‘With fuel prices differing between retailer sites, it is critical that drivers seek out the best deal and use a fuel purchasing system that gives them access to the widest possible fuel network.’
Adrian Waters, head of commercial fleet sales at AA Business Services, said: ‘Putting more controls in place over where employees buy fuel from is very important, particularly where businesses are footing the bill.
‘Unleaded petrol can be as much as 5p a litre more expensive at a rural garage or service station compared to a supermarket forecourt.
‘One of the ways of monitoring and controlling fuel spend is by using a fuel card, which not only gives fleet or HR managers a detailed weekly report of fuel being spent by each driver, but also details of where they are filling up and how much they are paying for fuel.’
Garry Hobson, managing director of Masterlease, said he expected fuel costs to become much more of a priority for fleet operators. He said: ‘We may see more companies choosing to incentivise employees to opt for more fuel efficient vehicles. Another area fleets may choose to look at is fuel payments. Currently some companies reimburse drivers of larger engine vehicles by paying a higher pence-per-mile than those with smaller engines. This could be removed in order to take away the incentive to get higher fuel consuming vehicles.’
Andy Leech, sales and marketing director of software house cfc solutions, said the majority of fleets do little to control fuel costs and could be hit hard.
He said: ‘Of all the fleets that we have dealt with over the last two years we estimate that less than a third proactively manage fuel. Rising fuel prices are simply treated as a bitter pill to be swallowed.’
Leech said adopting fuel cards, giving drivers advice on where to buy cheaper fuel, and even considering fuel bunkering could result in savings.
He said: ‘At these times, anger tends to be directed towards the government. Whatever the rights or wrongs of this argument, it is highly unlikely that fuel tax levels will be dramatically reduced. Fleet managers could instead look at the range of controls available to them.’
The last week’s events show that the future of fuel costs is far from clear. With no crystal ball available to fleet operators, establishing a clear and effective fuel management system now could save considerable heartache down the line.
Countdown to chaos – how the fuel protests developed and failed to materialise
Suppliers say they are struggling to cope with demand, due to the issue of getting tankers to filling stations. The UK Petroleum Industry Association (UKPIA) says tanker deliveries have been boosted by 10 to 15%. Gordon Brown still refuses to make any concessions on fuel tax. However, governments across Europe, mired in fuel protests themselves, take action to curb costs.