RAC Cars News


Is The UK Running Out Of Diesel?

By raccars Published

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A new report by the RAC Foundation suggests that the UK is using more diesel than it can produce, meaning it has to rely on the vagaries of the international diesel supply chain. The automotive research charity has released a study under the title 'Readdressing the Balance between Petrol and Diesel Demand, in which it claims that UK drivers are buying twice as much diesel as petrol.

In the past two decades, the UK diesel market has grown by 76%, with the UK able to provide only just over half of this from its own resources and obliged to import 45% of what it uses. By contrast, the UK exports petrol and has seen domestic demand drop by 46% over the last 20 years.

The RAC Foundation report points out that 30% of the UK's diesel refineries have been closed in the last six years. There are now six diesel refinery facilities in the UK compared to nine in 2009, and some of these are for sale. Some of these refineries were re-engineered to become petrol refineries instead of diesel, whereas it is prohibitively expensive to perform the operation in reverse and convert a petrol refinery to produce diesel.

The result is that Britain, along with many other European nations, is obliged to seek diesel supplies elsewhere. The further afield we have to seek diesel, the more the cost is likely to rise, and after months of lower fuel prices, the RAC Foundation is concerned that drivers will see forecourt prices start to rise again as retailers have to pay more for their diesel supplies.

The problem has grown with the number of diesel cars owned by UK residents. There were 11 million diesel powered cars on UK roads last year compared to only 1.6 million two decades ago. At the same time, the number of heavy goods vehicles, which tend to be diesel powered, has also risen. According to the RAC Foundation report, if statistics continue to follow the prevailing trend, by 2030 diesel will be outselling petrol in Britain four times over.

The charity cautions that Britain will need to invest substantial sums into creating more diesel refineries in the UK to keep up with demand. When the majority of fuel refineries were built in the UK - many are up to 50 years old - petrol was still by far the most popular automotive fuel and the refineries have not been updated to keep pace with changing market trends. The amount of investment needed to make the transformation, from dated petrol refinery to modern diesel production plant does not, according to investors, make sense based upon the small margins returned by fuel pump prices.

However, recent plans to implement ultra-low emission zones in a number of major British cities could affect the balance between sales of petrol and diesel models in the new car market. Birmingham, Southampton and Leeds are among a number of cities considering joining London in applying a new charge to all older diesel vehicles entering city centre zones. While the newest, cleanest diesel cars will be exempt, older diesel models entering the capital will have to pay an extra tax, on top of the existing congestion charge, from 2020. This includes public transport vehicles and lorries, as well as private cars and licensed taxis.

The moves to penalise diesel drivers are being introduced to help Britain reach clean air targets set by the EU. So far, the country has failed to achieve the clean air standard set for it and has until December to develop a plan to help it rectify the breach.

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