Supermarket giant Asda has kicked off a fuel price war after promising to cut fuel prices by up to 2p-a-litre from today.
It means that motorists filling up at any of its eight forecourts in Northern Ireland will pay no more than 134.7p for petrol and 139.7p for diesel.
Rivals Tesco and Sainsbury’s both retaliated, saying they too will be knocking off up to 2p at some of their filling stations.
All three retail giants use regional pricing policies to determine what they charge based on geographical location and competition in the area.
That means drivers in different parts of the country are not necessarily paying the same price for exactly the same product — a discrepancy this newspaper has voiced its opposition to over the past five years.
Today’s reduction represents the first time since late February that diesel prices across the province have fallen below the 140p-a-litre mark.
The AA last night said that the wholesale price of petrol has dropped by 10p-a-litre across Europe since the record highs of mid-April.
AA spokesman Luke Bosdet said that some independent retailers had subsequently slashed their tariffs by 5p per litre.
And while he welcomed Asda’s opening salvo in the latest fuel war, Mr Bosdet said the other supermarkets “need to catch up fast”.
“We’ve seen politicians in Northern Ireland pulling their hair out at the price discrepancy with other parts of the UK,” said Mr Bosdet.
“The Austrian Competition Authority recently analysed price movements and it concluded what everybody knows, and that is that the prices rise much more quickly than they fall — which seems to be a malaise that permeates the whole of Europe.”
Mr Bosdet said that this underlines the need for transparency in the UK fuel market to ensure that the consumer gets a fair price for fuel.
Tesco said it will drop fuel prices today, although a spokeswoman declined to confirm the current cost of fuel in forecourts here.
She added: “With 490 forecourts, we're Britain's biggest petrol retailer, so more drivers will make savings at our pumps than anywhere else.”
A Sainsbury’s spokesman said 2p will be cut off prices, but, like Tesco, it doesn’t offer a uniform tariff for all petrol stations.
“We are doing everything we can to help our customers save money,” he said.
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Asda has forecourts in Ballyclare, Bangor, Coleraine, Cookstown, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Newtownards and Omagh.
However drivers without access to an Asda forecourt could now be subject to a staggering 10p per litre differential on the cost of fuel.
In other words, it could cost an ordinary consumer £5.50 more to fill up an average 55-litre family car, depending on where they shop.