Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

January 25, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

KICKING THE HABIT....The LA Times reports that high gasoline prices have changed driving habits:

To the surprise of many economists, U.S. motorists changed their ways enough to cut the nation's per-driver mileage by 0.4% in 2005, ending a string of increases dating back to 1980, government data show....It's a small but important shift for a nation that many believed was impervious to rising gas prices because drivers were unable or unwilling to rein in their gas-guzzling ways.

This really is good news. Still, there's never been any question that higher gasoline prices lead to lower gasoline consumption. It's a standard commodity, after all, and its demand curve slopes downward.

Instead, the real question is: How big a price increase does it take to reduce gasoline consumption? And here the news is pretty dispiriting. After all, from early 2005 to mid-2006, the average price of gasoline increased more than 60%. (Data here.) And what did this get us? As the accompanying chart show, during that period total miles driven flattened out and per-driver mileage decreased only slightly. That's not a very elastic demand curve.

Plus there's this: gasoline prices peaked in July-August of last year and have since dropped by nearly a quarter. So what happened?

"The gasoline consumed since that August peak in gasoline prices is up nearly 2.5% versus the comparable time period a year ago," said [David] Portalatin, the NPD researcher. "What it means is that consumers have a short memory."

This shows that if we're serious about wanting to cut gasoline usage -- to fight global warming, reduce oil imports, cut down on smog, or whatever -- half measures just aren't going to do it. In the space of 18 months the price of gasoline went up by more than a dollar per gallon and its impact on driving behavior was barely noticeable. A gas tax of the same amount would likely have a bigger effect over time, but it would still probably be modest.

This is why I favor (among other things) higher CAFE fuel standards. A gasoline tax is a fine idea for a variety of reasons, but by itself it's highly unlikely to seriously affect gasoline usage. If that's our goal, we need to do far, far more.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

It's a standard commodity, after all, and its demand curve slopes downward.

Yes and no, Kevin. I would argue that unlike normal widgets, gasoline's elasticity of demand is subject to some profound geographic (and to a lesser degree, calendar based) influences.

I am all for the concept of increasing taxes on gasoline to encourage conservation, but I have many family members who live in rural communities. They are very conservation minded, but need to drive a good deal to get to work, school, a competent doc, or other significant services. Their demand curve is much more horizontal.

They might be able to change their vehicle eventually, but many are locked in to their current choices long-term.

BTW, can we have a Domino update tomorrow?

Posted by: Keith G on January 25, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

2007: Pedal Faster

Posted by: G.W.B. on January 25, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

This shows is that if we're serious about wanting to cut gasoline usage -- to fight global warming, reduce oil imports

Kevin, there are really simple answers to energy independence and reducing oil imports.

One answer would be open up ANWR and the california and Florida coastlines to oil drilling. But liberals and democrats are against this because they care more about the lives of whales and dolphins than energy independence.

Another answer is impose a huge tax on importing oil. This would make using domestic oil much more attractive and therefore make us less dependent on foreign oil. This would mean domestic companies would make more profits causing more growth and jobs in America so it's a win-win for America.

Posted by: Al on January 25, 2007 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

This is just evidence that the free market works. Price goes up, and the system sheds load. Gas taxes would increase the rate at which people go to other alternatives, if that's what we want to do.

It's just like how minimum wage kills jobs. Funny that liberals are selective with admitting that supply and demand works.

Posted by: American Hawk on January 25, 2007 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

A more useful graph would be the change in miles driven relative to the change in the inflation adjusted price of gas. My understanding is that the peak of 'real' gas prices was in 1980.' And I recall my econ prof saying, at about that time, that demand for gasoline was inelastic in the short term, but surprisingly elastic in the longer term (no, he wasn't Keynes, and didn't make teh Keynes joke.)

Posted by: MaryCh on January 25, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

I could have swore I heard this same story on NPR but with the conclusion that the decrease was NOT due to US motorists changing their habits but as a result of commercial and inductrial users decreasing their demand.

Posted by: Macswain on January 25, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hawk: Nobody denies that supply and demand works. In each particular case it's a question of (a) how elastic is demand? and (b) what other factors are there? Please keep up.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 25, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

The secret is that it can't just be gas tax -- we must eliminate other subsidies to the car-based culture: extensive free or low cost parking, low barrier for licensing (fees, the amount of behind-the-wheel time), and "free" roads. Gasoline is just one aspect of the picture.

Posted by: DC1974 on January 25, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, that would require chickenfeathers to step outside his 6-cubic-inch world. Nah gah hap'n.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 25, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Keith: I agree, and it's one reason I'm not as gung ho about higher gas taxes as I could be. Still, I think they're a good idea even if they cause some pain. They just aren't enough, that's all.

MaryCh: This post is about gasoline consumption in 2005-06. Inflation isn't an issue over such a short time period.

Elasticity probably is higher over the long term, as people slowly make lifestyle changes, but keep in mind that gasoline consumption has increased at a remarkably steady rate over the past 25 years, year in and year out, despite wildly changing prices. This indicates to me that long term elasticity is fairly low too.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 25, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin-- Prices went up, usage went down. For all the bellyaching, gasoline is still very cheap. Gas isn't expensive enough to convince people to change their habits. We may be able to manufacture more gas: There's some very exciting engineering going on in that direction. If so, there's no need to change our habits. We may slowly run out of gas, and have to change. As there's big price hikes, there will be big changes, just as small hikes led to small changes.

Posted by: American Hawk on January 25, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

From an article in the CS Monitor in August of 2005:

On average, 60 percent of the price European drivers pay at the pump goes to their governments in taxes.

In Britain, the government takes 75 percent, and raises taxes by 5 percent above inflation every year (though it has forgone this year's rise in view of rocketing oil prices, and the French government has promised tax rebates this year to taxi drivers, truckers, fishermen, and others who depend heavily on gasoline.) On August 8, for example, the price of gas in the US, without taxes, would be $2.17, instead of $2.56; in Britain, it would be $1.97, instead of $6.06.

We just have no idea of what other people, in the reality based world, pay for gas. A steep government tax, if implemented correctly, could have a lot of beneficial effects in terms of molding consumer behavior. American consumers need to have confidence that fuel prices are going to be steep and stay steep.

Posted by: majun on January 25, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think part of this is because researchers do not have a true understanding of why people drive and how people make decisions whether to drive or use some other mode of transportation.

For years, everyone has said that the way to reduce driving is to invest heavily in public transit, but I'm beginning to seriously wonder if that would have a significant effect. Why? Because public transit is only time and cost-efficient for individuals/small groups travelling point-to-point without any stuff to carry.

But how many of us truly travel like this? How many people go straight for work to home and back without making any other stops? If you have kids, you are never making point-to-point trips and are almost always carrying stuff with you, which makes public transit fairly unfeasible. Even if you don't have kids, you are often stopping to run errands (buying groceries, picking up dry cleaning, etc.) and the way to/from work. Even if you are not running errands, if you have to transfer buses/trains, using public transit is usually going to take longer than driving.

Part of the problem is also that in most areas residential development has gotten so spread out that is becomes even harder to attract enough transit riders to any given route to make is cost-efficient for public transit agencies.

And I say this as someone who rode public transit in San Francisco starting when I was seven and didn't buy a car until I turned 28. Now I live in Seattle and have kids, and my driving routes are so convoluted that there is no way I could use public transit even if I wanted to.

That's what we're up against.

Posted by: mfw13 on January 25, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

maybe american consumers would change their habits if we switched from...

m.p.g. = miles per gallon

to...

m.p.s.

miles per soldier...

Posted by: mr. irony on January 25, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

The housing bubble and the desire of most Americans to own their own homes has been a huge contributor; people are buying homes further and further away from work, and that's why the number of miles driven has been rising or staying flat despite gasoline costs.

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 25, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

A steep government tax, if implemented correctly, could have a lot of beneficial effects in terms of molding consumer behavior. American consumers need to have confidence that fuel prices are going to be steep and stay steep.

Ze government shall tell yoo how much gas you may have! If that's what you want, move to CHina or North Korea.

Posted by: American Hawk on January 25, 2007 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin : Nice to see it's not just self-appointed monitors of the thread ready to smack down idiots like AH.
Several years ago I visited Australia and was struck by the number of smaller vehicles on the roads. Given the "interesting" winding trails I encountered in New South Wales, smaller responsive vehicles were attractive alternatives to running out of lane on the mountain sides.
The variety available reminded me that, left/right controls aside, many small options must be unavailable in North America as a result of local regulation. If others manage without our particular set of rules - rolling over Chinese rickshaws aside - it might be interesting to compare transport solutions and outcomes to other nations.
That's fine for rural use - although Fiat's diesel Panda AWD is something that would be nice to be able to use ( made in Poland !) - but efficient subsidized commuter friendly urban transit is the only way I can see to significantly cut city driving. Difficulty and cost of parking alone make this a good idea. From the minicipalities' view, anything cutting costs of road grid infrastructure maintenance is a good thing. Bring back electric trains ?

Posted by: opit on January 25, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

It's just like how minimum wage kills jobs.

As Keith G. above mentions with respect to gasoline, there is also an inelasticity of demand wrt low wage workers across a wide swath of demand sectors.

(Of course, I don't expect AH to understand what I just wrote.)

Funny that liberals are selective with admitting that supply and demand works.

Funny how I have as yet to encounter a wingnut who ever made it all the way through econ 101.

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Ze government shall tell yoo how much gas you may have! If that's what you want, move to CHina or North Korea.

If you want no gvmt interference, move to Iraq.

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know, the last two cars I have purchased have been ever more fuel efficient. My wife and I have purchased one fuel efficient foreign commuter car we drive back and forth to work. We have a second American car with greater creature comforts that gets good over the road mileage. We use it on trips and as a backup when my wife and I have to be in two different places at the same time.

We made our purchases during the last gasoline spike. Frankly, we are glad we did. The commuter car is very well built and very handy around town.

More and more people in our circle are making similar decisions. At Christmas my brother was bragging about the improved fuel economy of his new Japanese luxury car. That was something knew.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 25, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

I just went outside and checked the odometer on the hybrid I took delivery on 1/15/06 - 3206 miles in just over a year. But - I live in the city, a block from the busline, and I either ride my bike or take the bus nearly everywhere I go. That's my contribution to dumping the pump, fwiw.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 25, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

My daddy never loved me and thats why I became a carpet-munching lesbo.

I just assumed that lesbianism is a maternally inherited trait in her family.

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

One idea I'm suprised that I never hear anybody discussing is making it easier for people to work closer at home or even at home, especially considering that a significant amount of driving (and therfore gas consumption) is for commuting purposes.

I've always wondered how many people in interchangeable jobs (barista, bank teller, retail salesclerk for a chain, police officer, mailmen, etc.) work at the location nearest to where they live. For example, one of the bank tellers at our local bank commutes 45 minutes to get to our branch even though the bank has probably 15-20 branches closer to where she lives. Our local mailman drives over an hour.

What about giving companies/organizations financial incentives to move people to the location closest to where they live and/or to encourage people to telecommute?

Posted by: mfw13 on January 25, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "This is why I favor (among other things) higher CAFE fuel standards."

I favor replacing the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards with a minimum MPG standard. For example, all passenger cars will be required by law to get a minimum of 50 MPG and it will be illegal to sell any car that gets less than that. The minimum MPG standards would of course only apply to new cars and would be phased in as quickly as possible.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

What about giving companies/organizations financial incentives to move people to the location closest to where they live and/or to encourage people to telecommute?

The problem is, that with many low paying service jobs, the jobs are often located in areas where the employees simply cannot afford to live, and those who live there could not afford to take the jobs.

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

This indicates to me that long term elasticity is fairly low too.

I don't understand. Why would no response to short-term price fluctuations suggest that long-term elasticity is low? And it doesn't look to me like there's any long-term price increase trend over the past twenty-five years. To see a long-term elasticity effect, you'd need people to expect long-term increases in price. Does anyone prior to now, and outside of peak oilers, expect that? I don't think they do. On the other hand, that's exactly what an increasing gas tax gets you.

Posted by: allen claxton on January 25, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

SA: I have screamed for minimum MPG standards at the top of my lungs for years.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 25, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is, that with many low paying service jobs, the jobs are often located in areas where the employees simply cannot afford to live, and those who live there could not afford to take the jobs.

That seems like a fixable problem: Upzone around employment centers.

Posted by: allen claxton on January 25, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

I just don't think gasoline demand is as elastic as you suggest. Here where I live [Oklahoma City] we don't even have sidewalks, for pity's sake! Children walk to school in the middle of the road.

Neighborhoods are built like mazes, discouraging bus routes. Public transportation itself is minimal, and grievously uncomfortable. In a place where *weather* is a solid fact of daily life, bus stops aren't sheltered. Some don't even have benches so that waiting passengers can sit.

I am lucky enough to be able to afford gas at whatever price it rises to, but if I don't want to shop at Wal-Mart, I need to burn the fuel ....

Posted by: Klio on January 25, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

A gas tax of a buck a gallon, directed towards building urban rail transit, damn well WOULD have a huge effect on vehicle-miles-driven. Part of the reason this demand is so inelastic today is because most driving trips have no alternatives which are remotely practical (no, the bus will never be that alternative for most people; but light rail can be for many).

Posted by: M1EK on January 25, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Car usage is highly correlated with land use patterns that cannot change with variations in the price of gas.

As allen claxton suggests, a gas tax allows the market to better estimate that the price of gas will be high enough to encourage conservation in the future. If untaxed gas bobs above and below that threshold it is understandable if most people engage in some wishful thinking and buy the SUV instead of a more fuel efficient car.

Posted by: Preston on January 25, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Klio,

A fall in gas consumption isn't necessarily due to increased use of public transportation. It may also be due to people who decide to combine many errands into a single car trip or take vacations that require a shorter drive than they would if gas prices were higher.

Posted by: Tyro on January 25, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: This shows is that if we're serious about wanting to cut gasoline usage -- to fight global warming, reduce oil imports, cut down on smog, or whatever -- half measures just aren't going to do it.

I would go farther than Kevin. This shows that it's absolutely hopeless. The US is not going to cut its gasoline usage, period. Sure, there are policies that would force gas usage to decline, but they are so unpalatable, that they'll never be enacted.

Furthermore, global warming is, obviously, a global problem. We have no way to force all the other countries in the world to cut their gasoline usage. Even if the US could cut our gasoline usage, world usage would still continue to rise.

The proper conclusion is: If we're serious about global warming, we'd better find some other solution.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 25, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

There is no reason this should be a method A versus method B discussion. It should be A and B. The public won't tolerate a sudden imposition of to large a gas tax increase, and to big a jump really would damage certain sectors; so make a recognizable and significant increase in gas tax now and increase it more gradually and as needed for it to have effect. Concurrently, start raising the CAFE standards in the same manner with extra penalties immediately for the "idiot guzzler battle tanks" that far to many suburbanites wheel around in. About everybody i know fits into this category, and my wife would eagerly join if I would let her; so don't go all postal on me if you own an Excursion or Escalade Longbody or whatever. You can get every bit of the size, luxury and safety you need in a more efficient vehicle; the rest is just showing off. Also the government (I would say President, but this one isn't capable) must call on ALL the citizens and businesses to do their part in driving more intelligently, in more intelligent vehicles etc. etc. and make it a forceful call to duty as an American for the sake of the country and national security to cut foreign oil dependence. Actually implement alternative fuel manhattan projects instead of just mouthing the words once a year in the third week of January. Even modest and gradual implementation of all the modalities, across the board, would make a combined gigantic effect immediately. To not at least make an honest start on all of them NOW is derelict; to ourselves and our children

Posted by: bmaz on January 25, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

I also support new CAFE requirements (or similar requirements on gas mileage). But I think the problem with looking at a change in gas consumption based on the price of gasoline is that while the demand for travel is pretty inelastic (it is difficult for most people to drive less than they do), the demand for gas can change, but it takes time because cars are durable goods. In other words, if you have a gas-guzzler, you are somewhat trapped until you are able to buy a new car. In fact, if gas prices have substantially increased, you may end up keeping your gas guzzler longer due to a depressed secondary market for that type of vehicle. But if gas prices remain high, when it comes time to replace your current vehicle, you will replace it with a vehicle with better mileage. ("You" being a generic consumer.) So the effect of high gas prices is delayed because you are not reducing the number of miles you drive, but rather changing vehicles, which is something most consumers do very infrequently.

So this is a case where gas prices can cause consumption to decrease by purely market forces. The problem with depending on this kind of market force is that oil (and hence gas) is a very unstable commodity, fluctuating in price wildly since the late 70s. For high prices to really effect consuption, they need to stay high for a long time--more than just four or five years. So if a gas tax could be put in place for a long period of time, it would have an eventual positive effect on gas consumption as the fleet of old guzzlers is gradually retired in favor of fuel efficient cars.

This should, however, be only one part of the strategy to reduce out dependence on oil.

Posted by: RWB on January 25, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Car usage is highly correlated with land use patterns that cannot change with variations in the price of gas.

Yeah, that's definitely the other major part of the puzzle. You have to give the land use market the ability to respond to super-long-term price increases. Unfortunately, the power to regulate land use is in the hands of localities. Finding some way to better urban form (especially in already built places with suburban forms) is going to be crucial to lowering gas consumption and fighting global warming.

Posted by: allen claxton on January 25, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

From the minicipalities' view, anything cutting costs of road grid infrastructure maintenance is a good thing. Bring back electric trains ?

I assume everyone is familiar with how automotive manufacturers helped destroy electric trains in order to sell more cars and buses?

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

We have no way to force all the other countries in the world to cut their gasoline usage.

You wingnuts are always so negative! If we can force democracy on the Middle East, we can do anything!

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

The money spent so far on the iraq war could have built approximately 2500 miles of subway in america's largest cities (subways are about 200m/mile).

Note London has 250 miles of subway, new york has around 300 miles, barcelona has 50 or so. So we could have built comprehensive rapid transit networks in the 50 largest US cities.

"Car usage is highly correlated with land use patterns that cannot change with variations in the price of gas."

Yep, thats why gasoline usage is relatively inelastic, however it can change, it will just take a long time, a time most easily expressed in decades. Over the first decade people will choose different cars, over following decades they will chose different places to live.

Posted by: jefff on January 25, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

I assume everyone is familiar with how automotive manufacturers helped destroy electric trains in order to sell more cars and buses?

Since GM and Ford are now getting their asses handed to them by foreign carmakers maybe they'd like to give rail a shot.

Posted by: Preston on January 25, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to reduce gas, you're going to have to make AFFORDABLE, dense, mixed-use, nice places where people DON'T have to drive. That means NOT setting aside an Industrial Park, a Stuff-I-Need Park, and a Housing Park, all of which are connected with massive 8 lane highways.

If you live in the modern, affordable suburb, what can you do but drive some massive arms-race vehicle. You need that (aptly named) Suburban to protect you as you travel between Industry Park, House Park, and Shopping Park to Haul around the 30 pack of toilet paper, the fishing pole, the silver polish, and the collectible bobble head you bought at Target with your three kids in tow.

In most cities, it is the middle class who live in the auto suburbs. This issue appeared in the WaPo just today. Sure Alexandria is great for kids, walkable, fun, with lots of parks and good schools, but no kids live there because the Townhouses cost two million dollars.

So what are you going to do if you're me? You're going to suck it up and move to Fairfax and spend all day behind the wheel. Because at the end of the day, you'll do anything for your kids. Anything.

And don't give me the "just downsize" argument. 2 BR Condos on the Orange Line in Arlington are 700.

Dan

Posted by: Daniel on January 25, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Since GM and Ford are now getting their asses handed to them by foreign carmakers maybe they'd like to give rail a shot.

Every business cycle GM and Ford get their asses handed to them by foreign car makers. You'd expect that it is part of their business plan by now....

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

So what are you going to do if you're me? You're going to suck it up and move to Fairfax and spend all day behind the wheel. Because at the end of the day, you'll do anything for your kids. Anything.

Daniel, I'm sure you're making the best choice you can- but from where I'm sitting having their father 'spending all day behind the wheel' doesn't sound so great for your kids.

Posted by: Preston on January 25, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

That means NOT setting aside an Industrial Park, a Stuff-I-Need Park, and a Housing Park, all of which are connected with massive 8 lane highways.

Why do you hate 'merica?

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Sacrifice
Sacrifice
Sacrifice

That's what it's going to take. The hole is just TOO deep...urban design has been a nightmare over the last 50 years..to get out of easily.

But as said sacrifice is impossible politically, because of selfish people who think that theirs is the last generation (or the last generation that matters), we don't have a hope in hell of fixing this.

Posted by: Karmakin on January 25, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal

I disagree. My post reciting my personal experiences above was serious. I think Americans are slowly but surely moving to more efficient vehicles. They are changing their patterns. Just take a look at the cars that are selling and at the cars that are spending a lot of time on the new car lots. Here in the midwest you have to pay a premium to buy a Prius. They sell like hot cakes. SUVs are not doing as well as they once were. All of the manufacturers are coming out with ever more fuel efficient vehicles. Our local Ford plant is building hybrid Excapes as fast as they can.

No ex-liberal, this isn't 1987. It isn't even 1997. The world is changing. Just look around.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 25, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Tyro, very true. I shoulda known better than to mix it up with the smart kids, but I did want to toss out some vignettes from real life.

Cheers,

Posted by: Klio on January 25, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Kilo

Smart kids? Smart kids? Where are the smart kids. Post early and often. Your comments are as valid as any. Better than many.

SA

I just read an article about the top ten fuel efficient cars. Only one (the Toyota Prius) claims 50 + economy. The editors say that 45 to 40 MPG is more realistic.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 25, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK
After all, from early 2005 to mid-2006, the average price of gasoline increased more than 60%. (Data here.) And what did this get us? As the accompanying chart show, during that period total miles driven flattened out and per-driver mileage decreased only slightly. That's not a very elastic demand curve.

That's kinda sloppy analysis Kevin; it only suggests relatively inelastic demand if you assume the demand (the curve, not the quantity demanded at the actual market price) is constant. But the background information you cite—the 20 years of increasing consumption year-to-year no matter what happened in price—suggest that all other things being equal, the demand curve is shifting out to the right as time progresses. That means that a year-to-year drop in quantity consumed reflects an even bigger drop vs. the constant-price expected quantity consumed.

Also, Portalatin seems wrong:

"The gasoline consumed since that August peak in gasoline prices is up nearly 2.5% versus the comparable time period a year ago," said [David] Portalatin, the NPD researcher. "What it means is that consumers have a short memory."

It seems to me more likely it means that part of the reduction due to high prices involves creating a "pent up" demand for driving, and/or that consumers have a good memory and expect the break in rising prices to be momentary, and therefore are taking advantage of the break to either fulfill tasks deferred due to high prices or to do things now that they might not find economical in the future due to expected price increases.

It means people are increasingly sensitive to gas prices, not that they have a short memory. It also, incidentally, is evidence that doesn't support your "not very elastic" thesis too well.

This shows that if we're serious about wanting to cut gasoline usage -- to fight global warming, reduce oil imports, cut down on smog, or whatever -- half measures just aren't going to do it. In the space of 18 months the price of gasoline went up by more than a dollar per gallon and its impact on driving behavior was barely noticeable. A gas tax of the same amount would likely have a bigger effect over time, but it would still probably be modest.

A gas tax, ideally, works as a part of a two-pronged attack on gas use. Sure, its a demand-side drag that increases the price, but the important thing is using the revenue to do something that increases alternative to gasoline use, both in the near term, such as whether its subsidizing the cost to riders of mass transit, subsidizing alternative fuel purchase or alternatively-fueled vehicle purchase, subsidizing transition from less-efficient to more efficient gasoline-powered vehicles, etc., and in the longer-term, such as actually building more mass transit and funding walking-/bike-/transit-friendly (re)development, alternative fuel technology development, etc.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 25, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Americans will buy more efficient cars, if they have to.

Drive fewer miles? I doubt it. I suspect the recent drop is economy related.

US suburbs and cities are designed around the car. They have spent 60 years building them that way, that cannot be undone in less than another 50 years.

Interestingly, 40% of Japanese cars sold now are microcars (less than l litre engine). Apparently kids just don't see cars as a status symbol, so they buy the most efficient econoboxes.

In the world of the American SUV, I can't imagine that-- no one would feel safe.

I'll go with Kevin, the US will have to legislate fuel efficiency, it's very unlikely price alone, or any politically possible level of gasoline tax, will change the American love affair with the low mpg car.

Posted by: Valuethinker on January 25, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

"...liberals and democrats...care more about the lives of whales and dolphins than energy independence."

Another Al-ism from his basement.

Troops die so a few can live richer and more secure!

Yes, I darn well do care about whales and dolphins and all the other species that are forced to share this sickened planet with us. I also am still darn mad at the guy on news talk who called in and said he was the owner of a Suburban and proud of it. Proud of it.

Destroy diminishing habitat for the sake of arrogance like that, N-O! We have destroyed Iraq for the sake of oil, isn't that enough? Troops have died for the sake of oil, I say N-O, N-O,
N-O!
Oil is as valuable today as horses were back in the Olden Days. But people move on when new technology presents itself. The few that cry about oil are the ones for whom oil represent power and riches. Let's die so those few can live rich and secure and arrogant.

Posted by: Zit on January 25, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is with consumption in general, not just gasoline. Spain saw what happened when they had more money than sense: everyone became a consumer and when the gold ran out, their country was plunged into a stone age and still hasn't fully recovered. We are becoming a nation if idiots who buy intelligence and activity from the rest of the world. Sure, we can spend our way to happiness, but we can't spend our way back when happiness ends up costing more than our world can afford.
It's time for consumption taxes as the ONLY taxes. Gasoline isn't the only poison, and no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in. Without some kind of feedback mechanism on purchases that treats all wasteful spending as the evil that it is, there won't be a world left to consume.

Posted by: auntiegrav on January 25, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK
If you live in the modern, affordable suburb, what can you do but drive some massive arms-race vehicle. You need that (aptly named) Suburban to protect you as you travel between Industry Park, House Park, and Shopping Park to Haul around the 30 pack of toilet paper, the fishing pole, the silver polish, and the collectible bobble head you bought at Target with your three kids in tow.

Sure, perhaps every big family in such a circumstance needs one car with something more than the typical trunk for hauling purchases (though I live in that kind of circumstance, though nly in a DINK family, and our "hauling" car used for Costco, etc., runs is a Chevy Aveo—sure, once or twice a year or so we might have to rent a pickup or pay to have, say, IKEA purchases shipped to our house, but its less expensive that way than getting a large vehicle, even before considering gas prices.)

Posted by: cmdicely on January 25, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

It takes a while for the "fleet" to cycle through. Perhaps more important than how many miles folks are driving is what will they be replacing their landyachts with, when the leases are up.

Personally, I know numerous Expedition/Tahoe/F-250/Pilot/4-Runner captains who will be switching to sedans or wagons when the time comes. This switch, ironically, is what Detroit fears most of all.

All those monsters will live on as used cars, however, so the complete cycle will take a decade or more.

Posted by: Trollhattan on January 25, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Neighborhoods are built like mazes, discouraging bus routes. Public transportation itself is minimal, and grievously uncomfortable. In a place where *weather* is a solid fact of daily life, bus stops aren't sheltered. Some don't even have benches so that waiting passengers can sit.

Sounds just like my burg (Calgary, Canada).

Who created this model and why do planners sign off on it?

Posted by: mapleseed on January 25, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

It's time for consumption taxes as the ONLY taxes.

I'm with you there, as long as it is a progressive consumption tax.

However, I see no path from here to there (that wouldn't wreck the econ) for a consumer-driven economy/society such as the US.

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK
I favor replacing the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards with a minimum MPG standard. For example, all passenger cars will be required by law to get a minimum of 50 MPG and it will be illegal to sell any car that gets less than that. The minimum MPG standards would of course only apply to new cars and would be phased in as quickly as possible.

I'd rather see that as an augmentation than a replacement; you set a reasonable floor and have a higher CAFE requirement as well.

I'd also suggest an incentive program to retire older vehicles that are worse than the new minimum, with perhaps some means-test for eligibility. Standards that apply only too new cars and that inevitably increase the prices in the short term are going to have limited effect unless you make a concerted effort to sweep the older cars off the streets.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 25, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK
Who created this model and why do planners sign off on it?

The mazes which discourage busses I believe are deliberate in residential areas to also discourage excess through traffic off the designated through-ways, speeding, noise, and associated factors.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 25, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers wrote: "I just read an article about the top ten fuel efficient cars. Only one (the Toyota Prius) claims 50 + economy. The editors say that 45 to 40 MPG is more realistic."

I drive a 1991 Ford Festiva that gets 45-50 MPG on the highway, and 35-40 MPG in city driving. That's with SIXTEEN YEAR OLD technology in a plain old gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine. The Geo Metro that was on the market around the same time as the Festiva got slightly better mileage than that (although Consumer Reports rated the Festiva, which was actually designed by Mazda, as the better car of the two.)

The auto companies have been able to build 45-50 MPG conventional internal combustion engine cars for at least 16 years, but they have chosen not to do so, instead brainwashing Americans with multi-million dollar ad campaigns into thinking that they "need" giant gas-guzzling SUVs which are much more profitable for the automakers than are efficient compact cars.

Pluggable hybrid-electric cars should become the new standard. Various small groups, eg. at universities, have modified Toyota Priuses (Prii?) by adding more batteries and a charger that plugs into house current, with the result of a car that runs as a pure electric vehicle most of the time (up to 60 miles per charge, much more than the average American car's daily mileage) and only kicks on the ICE engine for long road trips. These cars get up to 100 MPG.

See http://www.calcars.org for more info on pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).

If experimenters with limited funds and facilities can build these cars, then so can Toyota and Honda (who are actually working on them) and GM and Ford (who are blowing smoke about hydrogen fuel cell cars that won't be available for 20 years while they do nothing to produce more efficient vehicles for today).

Pluggable hybrid electric vehicles whose internal combustion engines burn ethanol or biodiesel completely eliminate oil consumption for transport and make the most efficient possible use of the biofuels.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, those CAFE standards have been REALLY successful at reducing fuel usage.

Posted by: Brian on January 25, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK
I just read an article about the top ten fuel efficient cars. Only one (the Toyota Prius) claims 50 + economy. The editors say that 45 to 40 MPG is more realistic.

IIRC, the newest Prius has an EPA rating of 60mpg city and below 50 highway. (Hybrids in general are, unlike most gasoline vehicles, most fuel efficient in city driving, and least in highway driving.)

I drive a 1991 Ford Festiva that gets 45-50 MPG on the highway, and 35-40 MPG in city driving. That's with SIXTEEN YEAR OLD technology in a plain old gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine. The Geo Metro that was on the market around the same time as the Festiva got slightly better mileage than that (although Consumer Reports rated the Festiva, which was actually designed by Mazda, as the better car of the two.)

I dunno about the Festiva, but the Geo Metro (at least the one I had) also had a rated maximum passengers + cargo load of 340 lbs. I suspect the ratings on the Prius are substantially better. It also strained, even when it was in prime shape, on substantial hills, something that I haven't noticed in the Prius's I've been a passenger in.

The advantage of modern technology isn't in making cars with decent gas mileage, its in making more broadly attractive and useful cars with decent gas mileage.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 25, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

I'm wondering....how many people on here commute to jobs that could just as easily be done at home?

The number one thing that businesses could do to reduce gas consumption would be to make it easier to telecommute.

Posted by: mfw13 on January 25, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

I am all for the concept of increasing taxes on gasoline to encourage conservation, but I have many family members who live in rural communities. They are very conservation minded, but need to drive a good deal to get to work, school, a competent doc, or other significant services. Their demand curve is much more horizontal.
Posted by: Keith G on January 25, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I live in a Rural area - in 2000, when Bush was elected, I was CERTAIN that Bush would do the following (same damn things his dad did):
1. Start a war in the middle east - driving gasoline prices up.
2. Borrow-n-spend, driving the value of the dollar down (and interest rates up).

My plan, at that time, was to mitigate these upcoming costs. (I should have bought oil-futures contracts, but all my cash was tied up in real-estate already).

In 2004, I bought a Jetta TDI, and most of the time, I run it on Biodiesel (when I can find it). This car gets 46 miles per gallon. It is a 4-door.

We NEED federal mandates on making Biodiesel more available. The market is demanding it, but the market settles for petrodiesel out of convenience.

However, I just got through watching "Who Killed the Electric Car." I did not know the capabilities of this car - I guess I heard a bunch of lying rightwing propaganda before. But I could actually have bought the GM, or even the Toyota electrics, and both would have suited my needs just fine. I commute 40 miles per day. And my wife has a truck we use for in-town errands, and shipping the kids around. A tiny two-seater that has highway performance, and at least 60 mile range, that I can charge at home, would have been perfectly fine for my daily commute. (especially now - that new battery technology has come on line; the original batteries gave that car a 100 mile range, NiMH a 200 mile range, and now Li-Ions would give it a 300+ mile range, and a shorter recharge time).

Hawk: Nobody denies that supply and demand works. In each particular case it's a question of (a) how elastic is demand? and (b) what other factors are there? Please keep up.
Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 25, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent smackdown Kevin! Thank you!

maybe american consumers would change their habits if we switched from...
m.p.g. = miles per gallon
to...
m.p.s.
miles per soldier...
Posted by: mr. irony on January 25, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

BEST Calpundit Post of 2007!

One idea I'm suprised that I never hear anybody discussing is making it easier for people to work closer at home or even at home, . . .
Posted by: mfw13 on January 25, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

This is an excellent point - and yes it does get discussed. Personally, I could probably telecommute 4 days a week; if my employer would LET me.

But most employers are into "physical presence" - WHY?

Because there is a huge problem in America (and everywhere, really); Managers do not have a way to measure worker productivity. Oh - it's technically feasible. It just requires actual WORK be performed by competent and diligent managers to measure it. Since most management is appointed via nepotism and cronyism, real WORK and competence by managers are not often required. So in order to make them FEEL like their employees are actually doing work - they require them to be in an office, in a cubicle, where managers can keep their EYES on them. (which they don't do anyway).

If employers would use intelligent business processes and technology to actually measure how productive their employees were - they could easily adopt widespread telecommuting. This would also likely result in more competent people getting promoted to management, and save businesses BILLIONS of dollars per year in operating costs, office rental, etc.

The other main factor in this study:
In 2000-2002, hundreds of thousands of high-tech workers were laid off. During the late 1990's these people bought houses NEAR their place of work, using funds from the decent salaries these people were paid back then.

After this massive layoff, these people had to get new jobs (earning less money) farther away from their homes. If you move near a place of employment, it is far less likely you're going to find another job in that area. So then they all got stuck with LONGER commutes. And some of them were forced out of their homes too, as the Bush (Greenspan/Bernanke) Interest Rate Hikes came on. And these people could no longer afford housing near where any employment was, so they had to move.

I think that by 2005-2006, a good number of people got their housing and employment locations somewhat realigned, and that's probably a significant portion of this drop in gasoline usage.

They should have measured this gasoline usage against the fluctuations in average commute distances.

Posted by: Extradite Rumsfeld on January 25, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

SA

Wow, that is one special 1991 Festiva. Brand new they were only rated at 31/32 mpg, which is about the same as my 2007 Honda Fit (31/34 mpg). What modifications have you made to increase its mileage that much?

When he was in college my son owned a Geo Metro. The girls loved it. it was a convertible. It got great mileage, but he had to rebuild the engine every 30,000 miles. Good for him he was a mechanic. He still says it was a fun car.

Anyway, I'll keep my Fit, it has more leg room, can carry all my Costco purchases, it sports side curtain air bags, and knowing Fords of 1991, a better radio than your Festiva.

By the way I just took my Pontiac G6 on a trip to Florida. We consistently got 35-37 mpg, depending on the quality of gas we purchased and the ride was much smoother than the vehicle it replaced.

Everybody wants to dog the manufacturers, but except for selling the hell out of SUVs and light trucks (which get lousy mileage but had a very high profit margin) they have all improved the quality of their vehicles. Most manufacturers have something in their fleet that has pretty good (but not great) mileage.

Both of my cars are much cleaner than your old Festiva--a car that had a very high emissions rating when new.

Having given all that love to the manufacturers, I am convinced that I have purchased my last pure gasoline car. I suspect most of us will be going to something else the next time we purchase.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 25, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely wrote: "I dunno about the Festiva, but the Geo Metro (at least the one I had) also had a rated maximum passengers + cargo load of 340 lbs. I suspect the ratings on the Prius are substantially better. It also strained, even when it was in prime shape, on substantial hills"

In my Festiva I have carried a half ton of bagged mulch and compost with no problem. Obviously it isn't as zippy with a cargo load like that as when it is only carrying me (about 170 pounds). No straining or sluggishness on hills -- of course it's got a 5-speed manual transmission and I know how to use it properly (and I wouldn't have it any other way). It will run at 70 MPH on the highway all day long, cool as a cucumber. And again, this is a sixteen year old car with over 121,000 miles on it that has never needed any major repairs in the 14 years that I've owned it.

As far as I know, no car manufacturer makes a conventional gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine car for the US market today that gets as good gas mileage as the Festiva -- let alone one durable and rugged enough to run for 16 years without any major repairs, that only costs $7000 new (I paid $5200 for it used including all the interest on the loan).

They could if they wanted to, and with improvements in technology and materials it could get the same or better gas mileage while adding modern features like airbags that weren't around 16 years ago.

They don't want to because there isn't much profit in small fuel-efficient cars that last forever.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2007 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers: "Brand new they were only rated at 31/32 mpg, which is about the same as my 2007 Honda Fit (31/34 mpg). What modifications have you made to increase its mileage that much?"

None. It has always gotten around 37 MPG city and around 47 MPG highway since I've had it. I keep a MPG log and calculate the MPG every time I fill the tank, so these are actual readings.

Both of my cars are much cleaner than your old Festiva--a car that had a very high emissions rating when new.

In Maryland where I live, we have to have the tailpipe emissions of our cars tested every two years -- most recently last December 2006. The Festiva has always passed with flying colors, with all measured emissions at a fraction of the legal limit.

Anyway, I'll keep my Fit, it has more leg room, can carry all my Costco purchases, it sports side curtain air bags, and knowing Fords of 1991, a better radio than your Festiva.

If I had to buy a new car today I would buy a Honda Fit.

My Festiva has no radio -- it's the minimal configuration, no radio, no rear window wiper/washer, no air conditioning. It was one of two Festivas on the Ford Dealer's lot that day, and I chose it over the one that had a stereo and air conditioning. I like it that way. I use a Walkman CD player and a JBL On-Tour speaker system (both battery powered) as my "car stereo" for long trips. My local trips are so short that I don't care about not having music in the car.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

They don't want to because there isn't much profit in small fuel-efficient cars that last forever.

IIRC, cars like the Festiva, the Apire ("I 'aspire' to have a better car"), and the Geo Metro were money-losing products. They were sold by the car companies to boost the "average" mpg of their fleets in order to comply with CAFE standards.

Posted by: Tyro on January 25, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

CAFE fuel standards won't help. Gas taxes will help but only a little. Guilt and concern for the earth only work on the usual conscientious suckers.

I say, WW2-style, we ration gas. It is something that must be done for the national good, and everyone must participate. No free riders.

Figure out how much we use now, subtract 20% and divvy up by households. Every driver gets an equal amount. Then, make these rations a saleable: If you don't use your ration, you can sell it or hoard it for a rainy day. If you need more than your ration to fuel your hummer, you can buy it at "the market."

People would find ways to conserve gas very quickly.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 25, 2007 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Only have a couple of minutes, but here is the link to the 40-mpg-dot-org website.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 25, 2007 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

In 2004, I bought a Jetta TDI, and most of the time, I run it on Biodiesel (when I can find it). This car gets 46 miles per gallon. It is a 4-door.

My wife foresaw rising gas prices and bought a used 1999 VW Beetle TDI with manual transmission. Like the Jetta, it gets great mileage: 50 mpg hwy, 44.5 mpg combined.

It doesn't strain to accelerate and when you fold down the back seat there's enough room in the hatch for camping gear for two for a week.

We paid $5800.00 for a car with 116,000 miles that looked new and will likely go another 200,000 miles with that tough diesel engine.

If employers would use intelligent business processes and technology to actually measure how productive their employees were - they could easily adopt widespread telecommuting.

Agreed. Telecommuting make sense and can work. My wife telecommutes three days a week as an analyst for an auto company (ironically) and it works well for all. She gets more done and is more accessible to her internal clients at home because then is nobody trying to waste her time chatting or inviting her for coffee.

There is no reason she couldn't telecommute every day save the dated expectations of the corporate culture, as you point out. The day that happens, however, I will be posting these thoughts from Maui.

Posted by: Windhorse on January 25, 2007 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

The mazes which discourage busses I believe are deliberate in residential areas to also discourage excess through traffic off the designated through-ways, speeding, noise, and associated factors.

Yes, I understand that much, but why so poorly executed?

Why no long-term vision, why no actual problem solving, why no creativity?

Creativity. A natural human trait (see turn-of-the-20th-century). Yet we've let it get snuffed out in this most fundamental area.

I ask again. Why?

Posted by: mapleseed on January 25, 2007 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to be late with this one, but for the majority of the country - as urban as we are compared to centuries ago - many people do not have a choice about the miles they drive.

Businesses hire and people rent and buy with little regard to where the other lies - because the amount of money change by renting somewhere else equals a huge change in gasoline price.

We also have cities which are frozen right now with the majority of their shopping and municipal services in big-box, completely unreachable by foot or mass transit.

60% increase of gas prices may sound like alot - but they don't add up to as much as thousands of dollars for living/working somewhere else or the millions for building a more friendly infrastructure to replace what we have now.

CAFE needs to be matched with mass transit that's realistic, and building codes which encourage pedestrian and mass transit, not discourage.

It should be easier to take the buss or train to city hall than drive.

Posted by: Crissa on January 25, 2007 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Mapleseed

I know some of the guys who were city planners back in the 50s and 60s. I say know because while most of them are dead, one guy I know just celebrated his 90th birthday.

Anyway, they were creative people. They thought they were visionary people. They thought they were planning for the future. They were wrong.

They all assumed that personal transportation was permanent and gasoline would last forever. They embraced the idea of the car because they believed sincerely that the car gave everybody the opportunity to move out of the smoggy dirty cities into the countryside. The car provided a freedom the city dwellers of their day found irresistible.

City streets were (are) often straight lines. Very utilitarian. Great for bus lines. Country roads follow old animal tracks and were curvilinear. The were great for giving folks a feeling of freedom. The suburban planners of those old days chose curvilinear. They thought they were improving peoples lives. One very successful developer I knew built Levittown style subdivisions in the 1950s and 1960s. He went to his grave prouder of the little 900 square foot cookie cutter houses he built for former GIs starting families than any of his later work.

The old suburban planners were wrong. Instead they built future blight. People can be wrong without being evil. No matter what their motives they are still wrong, and we still have to clean up the mess.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 25, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Why no long-term vision, why no actual problem solving, why no creativity?

It has all that. It just goes in the direction opposite of what you want. To my understanding, the modern suburb is the result of cars + gardens + some attempt at the feel of country living--i.e., no street grid, no interconnectedness, just slow curves and cul-de-sacs--along with a strong dollop of income (and often, though less now, racial) homogeneity.

Posted by: allen claxton on January 25, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

"I favor replacing the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards with a minimum MPG standard. "

Yea, that would probably be nice. I'd like to see a maximum weight limit for passenger vehicles. The SUV arms race is occuring partly because people don't want to be hit by a bigger suv and injured (though overall suv's arent safer for thier passengers, they are just more dangerous for other people). A maximum weight limit would improve safety, help improve fuel efficiency, and help stop people from wasting so much money on thier cars.

Posted by: jefff on January 25, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

This item from 40mpg.org site that the Blue Girl linked to perfectly illustrates the point I am trying to make by blathering about my Ford Festiva: that the automakers have the technology NOW to make extremely efficient conventional-fueled vehicles, but they CHOOSE not to make them available for the US market:

WASHINGTON, D.C. /// December 1, 2005

Ever heard of the Ford Fiesta that gets 45mpg in the city and 60mpg on the highway?

Not familiar with the Volkswagen Lupo with a combined city/highway rating of 53.5 mpg?

Don't remember a car salesman ever offering you a test drive in a GM Opel/Vauxhall Tigra that does better than 60mpg on the open road?

Never been passed by the sleek BMW 5 Series Saloon that gets 50mpg on the highway?

You are far from alone. According to new research by 40mpg.org/Civil Society Institute, these are just a few of the 86 or more car models that get a combined rating of 40mpg or better ... but are not sold in the U.S., where only five cars are rated as highly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Adding insult to injury: Most of these fuel-efficient vehicles are either made by U.S. manufacturers or foreign car makers with extensive U.S. sales operations.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

mfw13 - My job (which I'm soon leaving) as a newspaper copy editor could easily be done from home. In fact, at the last newspaper I worked for, one of the editors did work from home due to a disability. If he could do it, the rest of us could. The only thing preventing it is company old-fashioned-ism.

Posted by: Cat lover on January 25, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Cities around here (silicon valley) recently (last five-ten years) remove restrictions on the weight of vehicles on residential roads - because so many new SUVs violated the three ton limit.

Yep. Instead of fixing the roads or inconveniencing people, they merely changed the rules.

...Also, things like radios, lights, AC all have a 'cost' in mileage. Having safety lights on is usually about 1mpg. A radio, similar. AC? Up to 10mpg. Automatic over manual? Similar. Safety gear, extra weight, trash in the back? All cost mpg.

I try to buy a vehicle that has these built into the electrical system so they waste as little as possible - Honda vehicles don't have AC as an option, but instead as an offshoot of the engine's own cooling system. The Festiva (I hated the automatic I rented once, ended up with neck pain from its terrible shifting) had all those items hung off the original design, so yeah, you could definitely get more MPG out of it than it was rated.

But what we really need to change is the design of urban areas. Require pedestrian/bicycle access be in shorter, more direct paths than cars; covered, protected spaces between mass transit and major buildings.

This needs to be done.

Besides, it makes places more livable and inviting to social interaction - which increases sales.

Posted by: Crissa on January 25, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Good. I see SecularAnimist zeroed in on the exact same information from that link that I was going to come back and post. I have a list of links to sites like this at Blue Girl, Red State, and it grows weekly. Scroll down to Information you didn't know you needed on the left side of the page.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 25, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Oh - and there are a few PeakOil sites on the blogroll.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 25, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Crissa: "many people do not have a choice about the miles they drive."

Isn't this one of those unfortunate myths that keep us from action? Many of those miles we log represent choices, some individual, some to meet other social goals. But most people have some choice about the miles they drive. They can agitate for more,

We can move,
We can advocate for public transport
We could send our children to neighborhood schools within walking distance
Stores could close on Sundays.
We could encourage 4 day work weeks
We could do more internet shopping
We could discourage going to work on the weekend.
We could dedicate city streets to bikes and foot traffic
We could encourage local produce markets
We could rebuild neighborhoods to make them more walkable
We could chose NOT to drive our kids all over the place to play soccer.

Even a 20% reduction in miles would be huge. We haven't even tried.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 25, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Brian sez:
> Yeah, those CAFE standards have been REALLY successful at reducing fuel usage.

That's the usual line coming out of Detroit. But look at this chart:
http://cmsimg.detnews.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=C3&Date=20070124&Category=POLITICS&ArtNo=701240421&Ref=H3&Profile=1022&MaxW=1500&Q=100&title=1
Note how the average MPG correlates pretty well to the CAFE standards. The reason that the standards don't work better is because there wasn't enough political will in the '90s to make them more aggressive. It could be argued that average MPG would have risen on its own, but IIRC there have been reports over the years of automakers needing to boost rebates on more fuel-efficient cars to avoid CAFE penalties, so unless one can prove that, say, CAFE reduced the numbers of people car-pooling (because more people bought
smaller cars), it's likely that it had a positive effect on average MPG.

The real problem with CAFE, of course, is the light truck loophole (where light truck applies
to minivans and SUVs). This, along with relaxed safety standards for light trucks, essentially resulted in a subsidy for SUV production. Part of that subsidy was directed into advertising to convince drivers that they 'needed' these vehicles, and the remainder boosted margins and profits. Anyone criticising the flood of SUVs that were sold were accused of being an enemy of 'consumer choice', when most just wanted passenger vehicles of all types to be regulated consistently.

If CAFE is to be reformed, the first step is to reclassify all vehicles that aren't typically used for commercial purposes as passenger cars.

Kerkira

Posted by: Kerkira on January 25, 2007 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

PTate writes:
> Crissa: "many people do not have a choice about the miles they drive."

> Isn't this one of those unfortunate myths that keep us from action? Many of those miles we log
> represent choices, some individual, some to meet other social goals. But most people have
> some choice about the miles they drive.

Increasing telecommuting would have a huge impact, but I suspect many people who could work productively at home are not allowed to by their employer. With the job market (for most professions) tepid, workers have no leverage to demand more freedom to telecommute, and of course there's no political leadership to coerce or encourage employers to loosen up. If broadband rates rose to those available in other countries, it would allow people to improve their virtual presence in the office (better teleconferencing and collaborative tools) and help convince employers to adopt more progressive telecommuting policies.

Kerkira

Posted by: Kerkira on January 25, 2007 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Kerkira,

Actually, the problem with CAFE is not political will. It is that people decided to drive more once the cost per mile decreased. CAFE standards increased over the course of two+ decades, but driver miles were largely unaffected.

Posted by: Brian on January 25, 2007 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

SA
Two issues with that 40mpg.org article:

1. The smaller cars cited may not have been federalized (i.e. certified for USDOT safety standards) or even could be, due to design limitations (which may be related to their high mileage).

2. The 50mpg BMW 5 series (and maybe some of the others) is surely a clean diesel, which could not have been brought to the US until last October, when the US finally joined Europe in requiring low-sulfur diesel fuel. Even now, these clean diesels can not be sold in California and the Northeast Compact states. The Mercedes Bluetec engine in the E-series could be sold in all 50 states if they allow urea injection, but there's no resolution yet regarding how to insure that the urea tank is replenished as needed.

The choices are not always simple, whether you're an automaker or consumer. That said, automakers should be pushing harder to develop and produce 4-cylinder clean diesels; most of the engines being brought to the US have higher cylinder count.

Kerkira

Posted by: Kerkira on January 25, 2007 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

My broader point was that if gasoline is relatively cheap, even raising its price significantly might not make much of a dent in demand.

That is, was the real cost per mile of gasoline in 2006 any higher than it was in 1980?

Posted by: MaryCh on January 25, 2007 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

"The real problem with CAFE, of course, is the light truck loophole (where light truck applies
to minivans and SUVs). This, along with relaxed safety standards for light trucks, essentially resulted in a subsidy for SUV production. Part of that subsidy was directed into advertising to convince drivers that they 'needed' these vehicles, and the remainder boosted margins and profits. Anyone criticising the flood of SUVs that were sold were accused of being an enemy of 'consumer choice', when most just wanted passenger vehicles of all types to be regulated consistently."

"If CAFE is to be reformed, the first step is to reclassify all vehicles that aren't typically used for commercial purposes as passenger cars."

Kerkira

Absolutely agree with your post and Kevin's assertion that CAFE changes are the best way-not taxing poor commuters more. I think the "oil glut" and the cheap gas prices in the 80's were a significant attributable result of the CAFE standards being introduced into the US auto market. Our transportation "physics" became lighter. Now we've gone "heavier" and we are paying the price. We need to get lighter again.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 26, 2007 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

Kerkira:"Increasing telecommuting would have a huge impact, but I suspect many people who could work productively at home are not allowed to by their employer."

Yeah, in theory.

But an idle thought... If I have a job that can be done via telecommuting, isn't that a job that could be done in India as well? For 25% of what my employer pays me? Global warming, meet globalization.

Meeting your boss, co-workers and customers face to face can't be exported.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 26, 2007 at 2:55 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin--you dramatically under value the magnitude of the change in consumption last year. the difference over time in flat consumption and 2-3%/year increase in assumption is enormous. Further, the impact of price increases is both short term -- change in driving habits -- and long term -- change in vehicle choice. The long term ultimately has the greater impact. The impact on last year's consumption of fewer new car buyers deciding to buy a monster SUV with $3/gallon gas was minimal. The impact if $3/gallon gas (adjusted for inflation) was sustained overtime would be significant. There is neither an empirical or theoretical basis for believing that fuel consumption is price-inelastic over time. Europeans drive different cars than us because fuel is expensive, not because the government forced them to.

Posted by: sklein11 on January 26, 2007 at 7:21 AM | PERMALINK

PTate writes:
> Kerkira:"Increasing telecommuting would have a huge impact, but I suspect many people
> who could work productively at home are not allowed to by their employer."
>
> Yeah, in theory.
>
> But an idle thought... If I have a job that can be done via telecommuting, isn't that a job that
> could be done in India as well? For 25% of what my employer pays me? Global warming, meet
> globalization.

Agreed, though when I wrote 'more telecommuting' I intended it to mean 'more stateside empolyees structuring their jobs so that they can regularly spend 1-3 days per week working from home'.

Back to your point above, for some jobs and company cultures, there would either be an advantage to offshoring (empolyees report daily a worksite with managers present), or to using stateside home-based employees (more direct experience with industry and processes, ability to come into the office or visit a customer/vendor site when required).

Kerkira

Posted by: Kerkira on January 26, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

As always, www.hempcar.org

Posted by: Neil B. on January 27, 2007 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly