Major retailers, particularly supermarkets, have often been criticised for 'rocket and feather' pricing where costs go up very quickly in a short space of rime but take much longer to drop, with independents forecourts often offering the best deals across the region.
The Express & Star has regularly reported on the price of fuel across the Black Country this year. The cheapest prices have regularly been found at TotalEnergies, Blakenhall Service Station in Dudley Road, Wolverhampton, which, as of Friday, was charging at 139.6p for petrol and 164.6p for diesel.
Those prices were significantly lower than the national average for both fuels, which the RAC is currently reporting as 159.88p for petrol and 183.87p for diesel earlier in the week.
On Tuesday the Wolverhampton filling station's operational manager, Sanjeev Lal, said his customers were saving £15-30 on a full tank each time they fill up as he claimed his forecourt was the second cheapest in the UK.
Based on recent prices, the cost of filling the 55-litre tank of a typical family car from empty at the Dudley Road forecourt would cost £76.78 for petrol and £90.53 for diesel. Those costs compare to average costs of £87.93 and £101.13 for petrol and diesel respectively.
These costs show that while filling a regular family car will save drivers a lot of money, the saving compared to more expensive filling stations is around £11 a time.
The RAC claims drivers have lost out on bigger savings in recent weeks due to wholesale prices plummeting by 11p for petrol and 15p for diesel in November, savings it claims haven't been passed on. The motoring group believes petrol should really be at an average of 146p and diesel to 169p – 14p and 15p lower than the current averages, leading its experts to think some retailers are enjoying margins of more than 20p per litre.
The average supermarket prices currently stand at 158.31p for petrol and 182.74p for diesel, both only a fraction under the overall UK average.
RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said: “It’s bordering on a scandal that drivers are being overcharged so much because the big four supermarkets, which dominate UK fuel retailing, are flatly refusing to reduce their prices by bigger amounts. Their prices are dropping like a feather when they should be falling like a stone.
“In 10 years of closely monitoring fuel prices we have never seen major retailer margins this high for this long. It used to be the case before the pandemic that we’d see wholesale prices drop by 4p a litre and then the supermarkets would be vying with one another to announce a price cut to drive customers into their stores."
“We have more sympathy for smaller retailers that don’t buy new stock as often as their larger competitors and need larger margins to stay afloat – to their considerable credit, some have lowered their prices drastically, undercutting the supermarkets by a huge amount. We’ve had reports of independent retailers selling petrol for as little as 140p a litre which is 18p lower than the supermarket average.
“While every retailer is free to charge what they like for their fuel it doesn’t seem fair that some of the biggest retailers appear to be taking advantage of their hard-pressed customers in the run-up to Christmas by making well over 10p more on a litre than they used to. We strongly urge every driver not to automatically assume their local supermarket is the cheapest place to fill up and shop around for the best priced fuel.
“We saw some similar fuel pricing behaviour from the big chains last Christmas but despite this, we believe this is probably the worst example of ‘rocket and feather’ pricing we have ever seen. We hope the Competition and Markets Authority, which is currently investigating UK fuel retailing, is paying close attention."