May 6, 2008 The Pump Handle 3Comment

Despite worsening problems with climate disruption and air pollution, politicians and individuals have kept making bad transportation choices for decades. As a result, we’ve got an unsustainable transportation system full of single-passenger gas-guzzling vehicles, and the only “solution” that politicians have been able to unite around is ethanol, which worsens global hunger and nutrient runoff without producing net energy savings.

There’s a little bit of good news, though. Recent stories suggest that the negative consequences of bad gas choices are finally starting to steer consumers and politicians towards better options:

Backing off ethanol: 24 Senate Republicans, including Senator John McCain, have written to EPA to suggest it waive or restructure rules requiring increased ethanol production. These rules exist, of course, because Congress legislated 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol by 2015 and 36 billion by 2022 and created subsidies for it; but of course it’s better that they admit their mistake than allow the program to continue. Democratic lawmakers should get behind rolling back ethanol requirements and subsidies, too.

Rejecting a bad gas-tax-holiday idea: In their presidential campaigns, Senator McCain proposed a gas-tax holiday during the summer, and Senator Hillary Clinton added her backing to the idea – a very bad idea, given that cheap oil prices have encouraged us to make unsustainable transportation choices, and rising prices at the pump are one of the few reliable ways to promote greater efficiency. More polled voters oppose the idea than support it (49 vs. 45%), showing that nearly half of Americans have figured out that a small amount of short-term relief isn’t worth it in the long run.

Choosing more fuel-efficient cars: Now that gas prices are approaching (and, in some places, passing), $4 a gallon, consumers are finally starting to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. In April, one in five vehicles sold in the U.S. was a compact or subcompact car; when SUV popularity was at its peak, that figure was only one in eight. Plus,the more-efficient four-cylinder engines surpassed their six-cylinder counterparts. Maybe this will teach the big U.S. automakers to stop putting so much emphasis on gas guzzlers.

3 thoughts on “Finally Wising up on Fuels?

  1. Regarding Guzzlers. The endemic problem in the US auto industry was the inability to make money on small vehicles. The epidemic problem is that Toyota et al have gone big, right when the US industry was trying to go small. Have you seen a Toyota Tundra, made in good ol’ San Antone? People buy SUV’s because they like them better.

    Remember, a car [or a cigarette, or VIOXX] is just a dollar’s way to make another dollar.

  2. “People buy SUVs because they like them better.”

    I’m curious as to how much of this is because of the inherent appeal of SUVs vs. heavy advertising of SUVs and policies that allow SUV drivers to avoid most of the true costs of their vehicle choices (pollution, wear and tear on the roads, parking space requirements, etc.).

    If US automakers had decided to build their strategy around smaller cars several decades ago, they probably wouldn’t have lobbied so hard against government actions that would’ve made fuel-efficient vehicles more attractive to drivers. Of course, maybe their strategy decisions were informed partly by government policies already in place, so this could be a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue.

    It’s a shame that automakers known chiefly for their fuel-efficient car are now following the US automaker pattern and introducing vehicles like the Tundra, instead of the other way around.

  3. The situation is rapidly changing, once a true economic related to the cost of energy in a post-peak environment has entered the picture. People cannot unload their SUVs fast enough, check out the decreasing blue-book values of these things. The books can’t revised downward fast enough, any car dealer just laughs in the fact of some poor sap trying to quote blue book when trying to unload an SUV.

    These all hopeful signs and I appreciate this review. The situation is very serious on the national level given that our energy/efficiency mix is really that of a third world country. At a national level the only counties we can be compared with are China or India, that is rather surprising isn’t it?

    I would not worry about other automakers, the efficient vehicles are out there. Think locally and do the right thing. The speed with which these plant will close down, and their non-union workers fired (think warp 9.9), is typical of the bubble-driven economy we seem to have created for our country.

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