Gas Prices – Is Anyone Responsible?

May 2, 2007
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Who’s to blame and why are you pointing your finger at me? Those are the two questions that kept running through my mind as I listened in on this morning’s tele-news conference dealing with the fast-rising price of gasoline. As you might expect, the basic findings of the report, sponsored by sponsored by the Civil Society Institute and the 40 MPG Organization ran along these lines:

-Gas prices are too high, and the public expect them to get even higher;
-Oil companies are gouging us;
-The government and the auto industry better damn well rush out and do something. NOW!

Okay, let me say up front, that I largely agree with those findings. I’m paying too much at the pump, I think I’m being gouged, and I want some action. I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take it Anymore … oh, and, yeah, ya wanna go for a ride in my new SUV?

When I got done listening to the survey results and the pontifications, I couldn’t help but notice a couple problems. For one thing, we American motorists are looking for some easy answers. We want the government to legislate solutions and we want the auto industry to make our gas-guzzlers fuel efficient overnight. We’re looking for hefty new taxes on the oil industry and we’re expecting science to come up with some really cool new alternative fuels that are cheap and don’t hand money to Mideast sheikhs and terrorists.

What we don’t want to do, the survey results suggest, is to actually take responsibility by making changes in our personal buying habits and driving behaviors. Like trading in our full-size Expeditions for Edge crossovers, perhaps, by car-pooling and maybe combining trips to the store, rather than spending all day driving around.

One speaker lamented the fact that the number of vehicles available today getting 40 mpg is barely half as many as a few years ago. Hmmm, wonder why? Because people weren’t buying them. For all the talk about Prius hybrids, the fact is, Toyota expects to sell a lot more of its new, fuel-slurping Tundra pickups, the bulk of them to “personal” users, rather than the contractors that actually need full-size pickups for work.

Speaking of Toyota, the automaker has become the automotive equivalent of the Wizard of Oz. Look at the hybrids, don’t look behind the curtains at the Tundras and Land Cruisers. The reality is that no automaker has suffered from a sharper drop in its fleet-averaged fuel economy over the past decade. And even on a model-v-model basis, Toyota is nowhere near the most fuel-efficient manufacturer in most product segments.

Okay, lest you think I’m writing off the role that government and the auto industry have to play, I’m not. It’s a sin that the push for better fuel economy has had to come from states like Vermont and California, while the folks in the White House and on Capital have ducked and dodged for more than a decade. And now that the public is fed up, they’re likely to write unrealistic rules that will dump everything in the auto industry’s lap.

Carmakers? Hey, they agree that bigger is better, better profits, certainly, so unless they’re put to task, they’re not going to rush to market with more 40-mpg Civics and Focuses. Why should they if those cars only sit on dealer lots.

Everyone has to take action if we’re serious about oil prices, CO2 emissions and Mideast oil imports, so point that finger at yourself, and at me.

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