The number of Britons joining car clubs has doubled in the last months.
Statistics released by the Department for Transport have underlined the impact of spiralling fuel prices last year, during which the cost of filling an average tank rose by £10. The most dramatic drop was in the number of new cars registered which fell by 6.8 per cent in 2009 compared with the previous year.
This was despite the Government’s “cash for bangers” scheme, which saw anyone trading in a 10-year old car receiving a £2,000 grant towards a new model.
Instead thousands of motorists, who have given up their own vehicle, have joined “car clubs”, with the number of members nearly doubling from 64,679 to 112,928 over the past 12 months.
Those who did venture into the market to buy new cars also traded down, with average engine size falling by 3.6% to 1,692cc last year.
Concern over pump prices saw the number of electric and hybrid cars on Britain’s road increase from 48,000 in 2008 to 62,000 last year.
“It is the impact of pump prices,” said an AA spokesman. “When we ask motorists what factors have influenced their choice of car, fuel economy comes second after reliability. Environmental concerns come some way down.”
On Jan 1 petrol cost 87.15 pence a litre. By the end of the year the average forecourt price had hit 107.85 pence as hard-pressed motorists were hit by dearer crude oil, higher wholesale prices charged by refiners and additional taxes.
Nearly seven pence of the 20 pence increase was due to a rise in fuel duty and VAT during 2009.
Over the same period the forecourt price of a litre of diesel rose less dramatically, from 99.84 pence at the start of the year to 109.56 pence by the end of December.
At the same time the proportion of diesel cars on Britain’s roads increased for the first time in a decade, reaching 41 per cent.
“What we have seen is a reduction in the use of the car for short journeys and people are being smarter about what they drive and when they drive,” said Stephen Joseph, executive director of the environmental lobby group, the Campaign for Better Transport.
The statistics also showed the impact the recession had on Britain with households tightening their belts.
They showed that people were hanging on to their cars longer, with the average age reaching 7.1 years – compared to 6.6 years in 2003.
Companies were also forced into economies. When goods vehicles were taken into account there was an 11.3 per cent fall in registrations in 2009.
The number of new vans fell by 35 per cent, while lorry registrations dropped by 40 per cent.
Overall the number of vehicles on Britain’s roads rose by only 0.1 per cent, the lowest since 2001. However these figures include vehicles registered by people who have settled in Britain and brought their cars with them.