High prices put motorists off taking long leisure drives

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

High petrol prices have driven down consumption.

South Africa's petrol sales fell one percent to 2,8billion litres during the first quarter compared to the same period last year. The first quarter saw the price of inland 93 octane going from R7,33 a litre in January to R8,11 in March - nearly 40percent up from March 2007's R5,85.

Petrol reaching R9,83 in June means the second quarter's petrol sales are likely to be even lower, and the current quarter with petrol over R10 worse yet.

South Africa is one of many countries where motorists can no longer afford weekend leisure drives, causing demand for oil to fall, which in turn has brought the price down from its $146 (about R1124) a barrel peak last month to around $115 (R887) now.

The first quarter's petrol sales were nearly five percent down from the fourth quarter of last year, but petrol sales generally hit a peak during the year-end summer holidays and then drop. Belt tightening during the last Christmas holidays saw petrol sales remain flat at 2,9billion litres year-on-year.

While petrol car drivers cut back, trucks and tractors revved up diesel consumption by 9,5percent to R2,5billion in the first quarter from the same period in 2007 despite the wholesale price going from R5,52 to R8,10 in March year-on-year.

The South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia's) fuel sales data shows why diesel has become more expensive than petrol this year.

Diesel sales have grown four times faster than petrol in the past 14 years. Sapia data for 1994 shows refineries used to turn each barrel of oil into roughly half petrol and a quarter diesel. Now diesel sales have nearly matched petrol, with each accounting for about 40percent of refinery output.