Even petrol companies are now talking about how fuel use and driving are falling. The Herald reports:

Z Energy says petrol consumption is falling in relation to increasing availability of broadband.

While more fuel-efficient vehicles and rising petrol prices have also contributed to consumption falling from its 2007 peak, Z’s chief executive, Mike Bennetts, said demand was more sensitive to broadband connectivity than these traditional factors.

“People are doing less discretionary motoring and that may be about the price but what we have found is quite a strong link between broadband connections and fuel consumption,” he said.

“People are doing online shopping and Skyping granny rather than making the fortnightly visit.”

A 1 per cent improvement in broadband connectivity is estimated to cause a drop of 200 million litres a year in national fuel demand, more than the impact of GDP growth, population, fleet turnover, vehicle efficiency and the petrol price.

This is very much in line with some of the things we’ve been saying for a while. The world is changing and the Internet in particular is having an impact on how much and often people travel. This is especially the case amongst young people. This also matches what we’ve seen in other transport metrics with the number Vehicle Kilometres Travelled per capita (VKT) falling back to below its 2001 level.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) publish regular information about fuel consumption and this is shown in the graph below by fuel type.

Fuel Consumption kt

Z are also predicting that petrol consumption will continue to fall

Fuel consumption peaked at 4.2 billion barrels a year in 2007 but is estimated by Z and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to fall to 3.6 billion barrels within the next 10 years.

Z has between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of fuel sales, and data compiled for an investor day shows light vehicle travel per person has fallen 6 per cent since 2005.

However, diesel use is increasing and while historically pegged to GDP growth is now surpassing that.

Undoubtedly there has been some shift from petrol to diesel which has contributed to the faster than GDP growth.

Of course one thing that isn’t mentioned in the article but will likely be having a small but growing impact will be that of the growth in PT in Auckland which has tended to outstrip population growth in recent years.¬†About the only thing certain in transport these days is that we can no longer just assume things will just be a continuation of past trends.

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    1. I presume they are referring to 95 as premium in that graph. Lots of older cars (with carbs / points) didn’t run overly well on 91.

    2. I thought about this too. Surely that was leaded petrol, rather than 98 octane petrol? Combining them seems a little strange.

      Another observation: I’m sure it’s a small fraction of the total, but diesel is also used for non-road going machinery (tractors, generators, log-haulers, etc.). I wonder what percentage of the total that represents.

      1. You couldn’t get anything over 95 (even unleaded) until the late 90’s and even then only in limited places.

    3. Wasn’t “regular” petrol in the 70’s and 80’s about 82 Octane or some really low number like that (may even have been unleaded too).

      About the only use of that stuff was lawn mowers and some really old British cars – in the 80’s old Regular was retired and the then (leaded) “Super” became the new “Regular” and so displaced the old Super petrol sales.
      And then Premium/Ultra came in on top. So this is more of a re-classification thing than a sudden change to regular.

      1. I only ever remember 91 and 95 but my memory could be failing me in that respect as I was in my teens. IIRC, the shift to unleaded was 91 octane first and then 95 at a later date. Once 91 went unleaded, many owners of older cars started using 95 until that too ended up unleaded. (like I said, my memory about such things may be a bit dodgy).

        1. “my memory about such things may be a bit dodgy”

          Probably all the lead that used to be in petrol…it’s really not very good for the brain at all. You are correct. 91 went first so if the engine in your car needed lead in the petrol 95 was your only choice.

          1. The Listener had a good article on the effects of lead (mainly from petrol): http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/ecologic/the-dreaded-lead/ (paywalled).
            Quote was something like “it’s hard to believe that a modern society could systematically poison it’s children for a generation” – pretty grim stuff. There is a good relationship between lead levels in a society’s children and crime rates some years later (and yes, although correlation is not causation, in this case there is both)

          2. The guy who discovered that putting tetra-ethyl lead in petrol retarded premature detonation (knocking) is also responsible for the invention of CFCs. He’s probably the greatest ecological vandal the world has ever known.

          3. I didn’t know that. But the dude probably thought he was helping. The lead allowed cheap petrol to be used in place of higher octane fuel and the CFCs were great refrigerants. He just didnt know what the side effects were.

    4. I’m not an engineer but I’ll have a crack at answering this…

      Using a lower octane than recommended can cause engine “knocking” or “pinking” under load i.e. the fuel combusts at the wrong time of the engine stroke. That’s a Bad Thing, and can cause engine damage. Historically Japanese cars (except perhaps high performance ones) could run on 91 octane, whereas Euro cars required 95. However, often the electronic gadgetry on modern cars is sophisticated enough to detect “pinking” and automatically retard the ignition to compensate. So if you want to save money, you can use a lower octane fuel, and put up with a slight performance loss.

      Checked Ford NZ’s website to see what the Fiesta needs these days. The lower end models, including the extremely efficient 1.0 litre EcoBoost engine, can take 91 octane. The higher performance 1.6 litre EcoBoost engine requires 95.

      1. Also old Fords and Holdens ran on 95/96(it was 96 until 2007 with the exception of Gull if remember right) until the mid-late 1980’s I think

      2. You’re dead right. The old regular fuel was very low octane and completely unsuitable for most vehicles in the country at the time. In the late 1980s following the Marsden Point refinery upgrade and the deregulation of petroleum supply (Marsden Point once had a monopoly because of inane mercantilist politics, which kept it from being as efficient as it could be and inflated the domestic price of fuel) 91 octane was introduced and almost all Japanese origin vehicles could use it. By then, British origin cars stopped being assembled in NZ as well, as those manufacturers went under or were bought out in the UK.

  1. Diesel of course also fuels buses and trains [soon, happily, not AT’s trains] but also heavy machinery like all those rushed out to build the RoNS for ‘economic stimulus’. The amount of diesel that’ll be burned literally moving mountains for PuFord and Transmission Gully will cost the nation a small fortune, and the environment.

    This is like the conversation I had with a trucking industry rep who was telling me that PuFord is vital because of the forecast for a huge increase in truck movements through on that route, I asked what is reason for this coming increase [assuming he had inside word on a plan to shut down the North Auckland rail line], and he said, with a straight face, they’ll be caused by all the earth and aggregate movements needed to build the road!

    RoNS logic.

    1. Patrick, careful or they’ll use the same logic to further ‘justify’ for the SH20-SH1 link – “we need the new road to carry the trucking movements to supply building of… the new road” :S

  2. I thought the Herald article was cool. Broadband has reduced my work trips considerably. I have worked at home for 16 years but had to go out daily for copying, plan printing, delivering reports etc. Since broadband almost all my work goes by email and I check plans electronically as well and provide edits the same way. Now most of my trips are for social reasons and these can usually occur during the interpeak or in the evenings. I still need to travel as I still need to have personal contact with people but now it is for fun rather than work.

    1. Yet virtually no increase in working from home was recorded in the census, so you and me are still outliers. Mind you I’ve never had a proper job, ie an office to go to everyday, so my situation isn’t a result of technology changes.

    2. Apart from work, I think we’re seeing a generation of youth who replace some face-to-face social interaction with mobile phones and the internet. Transport requirements fall since people don’t go out so much. Both work and social factors will effect other transport modes besides roads, and may explain why AT have to keep revising their rail passenger targets downwards. If this is true, then it is sort of sad that we’ve turned in to a society of txting couch potatoes.

      The government have promised to start work on the CBD rail tunnel in 2020, or earlier if rail use growth is ahead of targets. So far, growth has fallen short of the targets. If this continues (and you’d hope not since there should be significant growth once the electric trains are commissioned), then is it prudent to push the tunnel out a few years? Stalled or slow growth would make the BCR look a lot worse than it is now, and we all know how much transport experts hate a scheme with a bad BCR.

        1. http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Draft-2014-SOI-Rail-Target.jpg

          Every plan reduces the targets below those in the previous plan. And yet we’ve still been missing them for almost two years. We’re currently at 11 million annual trips, and should be well over 14 million. According to the 2012 plan, we should be at 16 million annual trips by October this year. In terms of meeting targets, we’re failing… Not establishing a case for accelerated construction of the tunnel.

          1. First there is no plan for ‘accelerated construction of the tunnel’ only the government’s idea to delay it, interestingly to a time they almost certainly won’t be in office.

            Second those earlier forecasts were based on completion of the electrification to an earlier programme, so have banked the likely coming growth form that. However it is our view that AT should not be lowering targets now that these programmes are about to go live.

            Third as I showed in the previous post we are exactly on target to match the 10.4% ridership growth required in this silly game.

        2. :Patrick, there is one motorway project that would match those targets – widening the northern motorway between Tram Rd and Chaneys off ramp to cope with the extraordinary traffic growth due to Gerry’s fast tracking of 35 years of land rezoning into 5 years.In fact this project could be done real cheaply because it just requires dropping additional spans onto the piers which were built in the 1960s to carry three traffic lanes. The Waimak bridges are long enough to allow the same “on ramp becomes left lane of motorway” approach used at Lineside Rd without causing conflicts with traffic heading for the Chaneys off ramp and makes things simpler when the Northern and Groynes motorways are built some time in the next ten years. But guess what! It aint on NZTAs list of future projects for Christchurch. Perhaps the Minister of Earthquake Recovery and the Minister of Transport need to start talking to each other.

  3. I’m an outlier here. From the early 1990s when the firm I worked for in Auckland subcontracted my effort to the Christchurch Drainage Board, I realised that I didn’t even have to go in to Whangarei to work. I have not bought shoes or ties since.

    My vehicle runs on LPG which exempts me from RUC and petrol tax. I have bought petrol only once this year at Waikaremoana. My peak petrol consumption was about 2004.

    Regarding the accelerated construction of the tunnel, I have a wee problem. Surely there needs to be some definitive planning for PT to the North Shore. Whether Light Rail, Heavy Rail, or some ultralight system not yet in commercial existence, it has to intersect with the CRL either at Britomart or Aotea. Thus the cavern for the North Shore platforms needs to be constructed as part of the first stage of the CRL. So some decision needs to be reached before resource consent can be sought for construction surely.

    Currently we have the situation up here that the rail is shut down until a few of the NEW locomotives are rendered safe to use. Not that we get new locos, but they have filched our few to keep the North Island going while the brilliant new Chinese locos sort out their asbestos problems. State Highway 1 is shut down at night for resurfacing on the south climb of the Brynderwyns, with Northbound traffic rerouted via the Paparoa/Oakleigh road.

    Conspiracy theorists could easily see this as a trial for abandoning the North Auckland line. Only truckies have noticed the difference and they are not happy

    1. > My vehicle runs on LPG which exempts me from RUC and petrol tax.

      Indeed. LPG excise tax is still way lower than petrol tax, and there’s no good reason for that discount.

  4. Curious that the MBE table ignores CNG which took a considerable share of petrol usage away in the late 1970s/early 1980s thanks to subsidised dual fuel retrofits, but which petered out in the 90s. It partially explains the 19841985 dip in petrol, when CNG was at its peak, before the Lange Government abolished the subsidies for the sector, hiked up RUC to better recover heavy vehicle oriented road costs and petrol became relatively stable in price over time.

    There is a good reason for the low LPG excise discount, almost 90% of LPG consumption is not done on roads. Much excise is refunded as a result. LPG vehicles should have been shifted to RUC, the previous Labour Government agreed in principle to facilitate this in due course, the key issue being that most LPG vehicles are dual fuel – so there would need to be refunds in petrol excise if RUC was to be paid – and that has just slipped off the agenda.

    1. NZ’s CNG was also, apocrypha has it, very gutless compared to LPG or petrol. When LPG became widely available, the under-performing CNG took the hit and went by the wayside. LPG performs quite similarly to petrol.

      1. CNG did have a popular image of being gutless and LPG less son, but it was perhaps more a function of the technology available at the time the respective conversions were at their peak (CNG being earlier).

        I worked at a service station with CNG in the mid 1990s (when CNG infrastructure was starting to be run down), and I remember one customer with a dedicated CNG converted Falcon. When we asked the typical question about power loss, he replied that it in fact had more power than the standard petrol-only model, as well as lower overall fuel costs. I was left with the impression that he was only sad that the conversion he had had become available too late to make a difference to CNG’s popularity.

        Maybe some technically-minded people on the blog could help explain the difference in conversion technologies…?

        1. Came down to the varying quality of equipment available in the 80’s and also the focus on trying to run NG as well as petrol. We could make CNG & LPG run very well on older cars, just not when trying to dual fuel. Modern tech overcomes some of the downsides (timing, port injection etc).

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