4 August 2011

Cost of diesel in euros, pounds – and francs!

Last week I bought some diesel fuel (gazole) at a French hypermarket. There are two things which make it a little less boring than most receipts:

Firstly, the price of €1.32 per litre: at the prevailing exchange rate of £1 = €1.13, this was equivalent to about £1.17 when the best price in southern England was around £1.38 – so about 15% cheaper in France. Hypermarket petrol (essence) on the other hand was €1.51, so about £1.34, much as in England. (Any US readers – this is about $8.30 for a US gallon of gasoline, lucky us!). Incidentally, the French government maintains an online database of all retail fuel prices, with a journey planner.

Secondly, like a lot of receipts in France, it explained, pour information naturellement, that the cost in French Francs would have been FF479.44, this being at the rate of 6.559570FF/€ as fixed on 31 December 1998. A useful aide memoire should France ever leave the Eurozone, which may seem unlikely, but France has a medium-term (2013) deficit problem that will be difficult to address, particularly in view of the presidential election timetable and the country’s historic approach to public expenditure. One obvious measure would be to increase the duty on gazole to the level on essence, but it would certainly be unpopular.

Vintage Petrol Pump in SW England

The photograph above is of a vintage petrol pump encountered recently in SW England. I thought it would be interesting to see when the dials had been frozen, and finally came up with enough data to produce the graphs below, as well.  
UK Historic Motor Fuel Prices, p/l and adjusted for inflation

The second graph, which has been adjusted to 2010 price levels using long-run RPI data, is more informative, but still ignores wage inflation, mileage trends, engine efficiency improvements, and so on. The third shows the proportion of the price which the UK government has taken over the years. It seems likely that if the price of oil drops in the near-term, the government will raise fuel tax to keep prices at about current levels and increase revenue.
Percentage of Fuel Price which is Tax

Older readers (who will remember having to learn arithmetic for 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the £) may notice that the pump in the photograph was wrongly set up. 4 gallons at 2/5 would have given a “THIS SALE” of 9/8, not 17/8. Alternatively, 17/8 for 4 gallons would be at a “PER GAL” of 4/5, the price prevailing circa 1953, and equal to 4.85p per litre in cash terms.

The fuel and tax data came from the AA up to 2005 and the UK Petroleum Industries Association thereafter. Petrol is ‘leaded 4*’ up to 1988, unleaded thereafter. Long-run RPI data up to 2003 is from O’Donoghue, Goulding and Allen’s very useful ‘Consumer Price Inflation since 1750’ published by the ONS, with CSO RPI data thereafter.


  1. Hi,
    Are you able to tell me please where the vintage petrol pump photographed above is located. I'm an artist/photographer and would like to photograph it.


    Nick Treharne

  2. Suggest you contact Warners, the Citroën agent in Cheltenham, and ask if it's still in their showroom.