Gas Guzzling
April 20th, 2011

Before commencing with today’s post, I wanted to mention that via NYT’s Motherlode blog I was turned onto this article which is an interesting follow up to my post about nature v. nurture in childrearing.  Once again, we forget the disadvantaged as we dicker about on problems of privilege.  It isn’t long, and I highly encourage you to read it.

I don’t typically pay all that much attention to gas prices.  I fondly remember the days when I turned 16 and gas was $0.89 per gallon (that makes me feel really old, by the way).  But I consider the two or three dollars per gallon I pay today part of living in suburban America and don’t worry too much about it.  However, even I took notice when I filled my tank on Monday and my receipt read $61.56.

I’m not the only one raising my eyebrows at current gas prices, but I may be in the minority in that I don’t see anything but regular unleaded in my near future.  This is likely due to a couple of factors.  1) My car is paid for, which is nothing to sneeze at.  2) I really love my car, I enjoy driving it, and meets my needs.  Given those two conditions, it would take a much bigger spike in gas prices than what we’re seeing today to get me to ditch my current set of wheels.

So I was surprised to learn from this short piece on NPR that if gas prices hit five dollars per gallon roughly 78% of Americans would consider purchasing an electric car.  The catch is that this 78% isn’t willing to pay a premium for an electric car.  Given that electric cars are still substantially more expensive than comparable fuel injection vehicles then the reality is that most Americans fall into my camp and plan to keep their current cars for a while.  Nevertheless, I find the statistic interesting.

When it comes to the automobile we, as a culture, have been largely reluctant to embrace significant change.  And because of that reluctance to embrace change, auto makers have had little incentive to develop it.  In the past 30 years we’ve added sunroofs, airbags, CD players, and GPS systems.  But the cars we drive today are otherwise surprisingly similar to those our parents drove when we were kids.

I wonder, though, if we’re finally reaching our tipping point.  Further still, if that is true, are we reaching our tipping point because we can see that a viable alternative is within reach?  If significant progress had not been made on electric and fuel cell vehicles in the past five years would we be so willing to consider a future without petroleum-based transportation?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad to see Americans’ willingness to consider an alternative (and in another three or four years I’ll share it).  But I wonder if this is a little bit like realizing you’re about to lose an argument and then suddenly opening your mind to the other person’s point of view.  You’re not caving.  You’re just enlightened.  Riiiiight.

I’m not always the biggest fan of the free market.  There are certainly instances when it serves us well.  But in this case I believe it has set us back at least a generation.  We, as the market, did not demand an alternative to gasoline-powered cars because we had abundant and cheap oil and there was no reason to disrupt the growth of our expanding carbon footprint.  But now that gas prices are becoming uncomfortable we’re beginning to see that perhaps President Carter had a point way back when.

In the long run, I’m glad to see that automakers are preparing for the post-gasoline world, because it’s coming whether we like it or not.  I just hope that moving forward the free market, in its infinite wisdom, will consider the long run when it makes its demands.  Unlikely, I realize.  But a girl can dream.

3 Responses to “Gas Guzzling”

  1. anne Says:

    I recently heard a news story about how Ford has totally shifted their focus on the inventory they make. They used to focus on trucks, and while their trucks are still a mainstay, they’ve put way more money and energy into their small compact cars that get better gas mileage. I found it comforting, but you’re right…is it too little too late? I fall into a similar camp as well…I would totally buy an electic car…but…I love my car and it’s paid for.

    Of course, we could live in France. My husband said he heard on NPR yesterday that in France gas costs the equivalent of $12.00/gallon.

    Out in the Northwest, we’re about to tip $4.00/gallon. UGH.

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    We’re at 4 bucks in the Rockies. Which is yet another reason I love my hybrid! And 12 bucks a gallon? Mon dieu!

  3. Cathy Says:

    I don’t know what my price point for an electric would be, but it’d have to be pretty high. I love driving and I love having good pick up. I haven’t investigated all the options available, but suspect that most are not quite up to my standard. I have, however, considered getting a Vespa or some other scooter for my commute to and from the train – which is electric. So maybe I am using an electric vehicle but just not owning one!