The AA says motorists punished the supermarkets for hiking their prices in the first quarter of 2017, after the government’s latest official statistics showed a slump in their fuel sales.

Between January and March this year, the big four supermarkets achieved sales of 1.388 million tonnes of petrol, down 6.2% on the same quarter in 2016, when they sold 1.480 million tonnes.

But the overall consumption of petrol was only down 1.8%, falling to 2.968 million tonnes of petrol in the first quarter of 2017, compared with 3.023 million for the same quarter the previous year.

Supermarket diesel sales also suffered in the first three months of 2017, dropping 1.8% from 1.793 million tonnes in the first quarter of 2016 to 1.761 million tonnes during the same period this year. Overall, the UK consumed 6.052 million tonnes of diesel between January and March this year, 0.6% up on the same period last year (6.016 million tonnes).

AA spokesman Luke Bosdet commented: “Through January to March this year, supermarket petrol prices rose faster than on non-supermarket forecourts, even though they remained generally cheaper. Car owners, who watch changes on the price boards like hawks, responded by buying 6% less petrol at supermarkets than the previous year, compared to nearly 2% less at all forecourts across the UK.

“This probably explains the regularity and fierceness (indicated by how closely the Big Four have matched each other’s prices locally and on average) of the pump price wars from March onwards.”