Fuelling innovation

As a popular British pastime, moaning about the price of fuel is up there with talking about the weather, drinking endless cups of tea, and loudly decrying whoever happens to be in charge.

And the grumbling looks set to get louder thanks to fuel price increases that are affecting all but those with pots of cash.

The average price of a litre of unleaded petrol in the UK is currently around 113p, and the average diesel price 125p. This represents an increase of around 10p over the past three months and according to murmurings from the petrol retailers association this week, further price rises are likely in the next few days.

And as fuel prices begin to bite, there’s emerging evidence that our driving habits are beginning to change. For instance, in a recent poll of 17,500 AA members, 16 per cent said they had decided to travel less by car.

While for many, ditching the car simply isn’t an option, the spiralling cost of motoring can also be viewed in a positive light. For a start, cutting down on the unnecessary car journeys that many of us are guilty of making will help reduce congestion. Indeed, official figures from the Department for Transport show that car traffic had fallen by two per cent in the first three months of 2008 compared with the same period of 2007.

But perhaps more importantly, certainly from an engineering point of view, is that the current climate should act as a spur for innovation. High fuel costs will fuel a consumer desire for vehicles that are cheaper to run

Hydrogen fuel cells, hybrids and all-electric cars are becoming more commercially viable by the day.

One thing’s for certain though: despite the high cost of petrol, the even higher cost of rail travel means that the current situation is unlikely to trigger the other big transport revolution we urgently need, namely a renaissance in public transport

Jon Excell, features editor