The skies above the fuel retailing sector are busy with activity as the powers that be set about making decisions that will influence the structure of the industry well into the future. How much of it amounts to dark thunder clouds on the horizon, and how much potential rays of sunshine has yet to emerge.
I’m talking about the inquiries by the Competition and Markets Authority (see News Extra, page 10) into deals involving around 20% of the UK’s forecourts, as the Sainsbury’s/Asda merger and the MFG/MRH merger are investigated. And then there’s the Road to Zero plan, the Clean Air Strategy and the demonisation of diesel (see Brian Madderson’s column, page 7).
There’s plenty of static of course (and I’m not talking about the installation of electric charging facilities!), with differing views on the merger of Sainsbury’s and Asda, and the effect that might have on fuel prices.
Robert Halfon MP and Fairfuel UK argue that a merged business might push fuel prices up. They and other motoring organisations have long praised Asda’s influence on the market, suggesting that where the supermarket operator is present its low prices help to depress prices over an entire local market. Hmmm.
Since this type of supermarket fuel pricing strategy was the death knell of thousands of independent forecourts, I doubt there’ll be much sympathy for that argument from the traditional forecourt sector. Indeed as Brian suggested, maybe there’ll be an opportunity for independent retailers to reclaim some of the territory they’ve lost. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Then there’s the future fuels question (see Spotlight on Fuels feature, p52) and despite all the talk in high places, down at ground zero, not too much has changed. Retailers are rightly wary, making cautious preparations to future-proof their businesses. But interesting to see that, according to a survey by Auto Express, drivers said they’ll wait nine years before they will buy an electric or hybrid vehicle, with lack of charging infrastructure and upfront expense cited as the most common reasons for the delay.