The post-apocalyptic Mad Max movies of the early 80s depict a society that has given up on more or less everything bar motor transportation and the fuel that makes it possible.
James McCausland, screenwriter for the original Mad Max film, drew inspiration from the 1973 oil crisis and the increasingly violent confrontations witnessed in fuel station queues across Australia at that time. The film’s vision of the future, he said, was “based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and that nations would not consider alternative energy until it was too late.”
Fast forward thirty years – add groceries and lottery tickets – and this nightmare vision of the future is rapidly coming to life right here in Britain. Despite rocketing fuel prices and plummeting incomes, our love of private motor transport remains largely undiminished and our dwindling reserves of carbon-based fuel are more avidly prized and fetishized than ever. A whole new generation of post credit crunch petrol-headed would-be-bankrupts are busily maxing out their plastic in a desperate bid to keep themselves at least minimally motorised.
But, however hard we try, we’re not keeping up with the glorious consumption levels of former years. Alcoholics Anonymous recently released statistics showing that UK fuel consumption fell by 5% in the first half of 2011 alone. Seeing that their customers are cutting back, many fuel retailers have pared back their margins to the bare minimum – one or two pence per litre – and are concentrating on selling household basics to the captive audience lured in by the heady siren smell of petrol vapour.
Many of their customers, at least 20%, the Daily Telegraph reports this week don’t even bother buying petrol. They just come in for bread, milk and fags – and the vicarious thrill of being around the source of our precious automotive life juice (like those who hang out at airports without catching planes). Meanwhile, out of town shopping facilities are increasingly deserted as folks stay local to reduce their fuel bills.
Diversification is a lifeline but no guarantee of survival. The Telegraph notes figures released by wholesale forecourt supplier Palmer and Harvey showing that there are less than half as many filling stations in the UK today as there were back in the 90s – and doubtless twice as many hand car wash outlets. Fuel retailers may soon be forced to venture into other areas, like legal services or massage and sauna perhaps.
So we’d better get used to ever greater forecourt congestion and all the social friction that entails, the Telegraph warns. We have more cars than ever on the road (35 million at the last count) but only 9,000 fuel stations (down from 40,000 in 1967), so the cars-to-filling-stations ratio is at an all time high. In west country fuel desert Torridge, the DT reports with alarm there is just one forecourt per 4,000 vehicles. Forget road rage, 2012 is going to be all about forecourt fury.
Bankstone News predicts: there will be blood.